Man who was protected by silverback gorilla when he was five-years-old says incident has shaped his life
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A British man who was protected by a silverback gorilla when he was a kid explained how the incident shaped his life.
Long before the tragic case of Harambe, Levan Merritt had a much more positive experience when he fell into a gorilla's enclosure at Jersey Zoo - and it's all thanks to Jambo, aka the 'Gentle Giant'.
The incident unfolded back in 1986 when Levan was just five years old. He's the second youngest of four who were raised in a close-knit family in Horsham, West Sussex.
What was supposed to be a fun family trip to Jersey Zoo turned into a nightmare when he leaned over the rail to get a better look at the gorillas, only to then fall in.
As he lay on the ground unconscious, Levan's family and other visitors went into panic mode - especially when Jambo the silverback gorilla approached the young child.
But much to their surprise, rather than attack, the animal gently stroked his back before standing guard to keep the other gorillas at bay.
When Levan finally woke up, he began screaming due to the pain of having cracked his skull and broken his arm from the fall.
The screams unsettled Jambo, who ran away just as one of the zookeepers comes in armed with nothing but a stick to try and save the boy.
Shortly after, another man jumped in alongside an ambulance worker and they worked together to fend off the other, less docile animals while getting Levan to safety.
He was swiftly airlifted to Southampton General Hospital where he spent six weeks in recovery, and was finally able to see the footage that would make he and Jambo famous across the globe.
Three decades after the incident, Levan spoke to the MailOnline about his close encounter, and how it's shaped his life for the better.
Levan has remained in close contact with the zoo, and has returned on numerous occasions including to cut the ribbon of a bronze statue of Jambo that was installed in 1992 following his death.
He said: "I am forever thankful to Jambo as obviously it could have gone one or two ways. It was amazing how he protected me in that way.
"I was pleased to be involved when the statue was put up of him in the zoo."
Despite the incredible incident launching him into worldwide fame, Levan said he was bullied at school where he was called 'Tarzan' and 'gorilla boy', but he told the outlet he just shrugged it off.
And with two kids of his own and a third on the way at the time, he's happy they've got the same passion for animals as he does.
"The children have a keen interest in animals themselves - although it is mainly dinosaurs at the moment," he continued.
"I often take them to Tilgate Park in Crawley which has a little zoo, but I would like to take them to Jersey Zoo. I am hoping to take them this year if possible, but if not, the one after.
"I have been quite a few times and it always makes me feel lucky to be here."
The encounter even impressed his wife Amanda when they met, adding: "She couldn't believe it was me [when she saw the footage] and that's saying something as she's not easily impressed!
"She was first told by my friends a few months after we got together and she didn't believe them and thought they were winding her up, until I told her. She was shocked and thought it was incredible."
It truly is a remarkable tale, one that could've ended very differently if it weren't for the Gentle Giant.