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Man who was protected by silverback gorilla when he was five-years-old says incident has shaped his life

Man who was protected by silverback gorilla when he was five-years-old says incident has shaped his life

It's been over three decades since the accident, but the impact has lasted his lifetime

A bloke who was protected by a silverback gorilla when he was a five-year-old kid says the incident has shaped his life.

Way before the tragedy of king Harambe – may he rest in peace – there was a much more positive story of Levan Merritt.

When he was just a little lad back in 1986, he fell into a gorilla’s enclosure at Jersey Zoo.

His family had taken a fun trip from West Sussex and were visiting the zoo when Merritt leaned a little too far over the rail to gaze at the gorillas.

The kid fell in and lay on the ground unconscious as his family and other visitors began to panic.

And you can only imagine the intensity of that fear when Jambo the silverback gorilla made his way towards the lad.

But instead of attacking, the ‘Gentle Giant’ instead stroked Merritt’s back before standing guard to keep his gorilla mates away.

When Merritt finally regained consciousness, he began screaming due to the pain of having cracked his skull and broken his arm from the fall.

This 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.

Levan Merritt had a lucky escape thanks in part to Jambo.
Matthew Cipolla/YouTube/ITV

Shortly after, another man jumped in alongside an ambulance worker and they worked together to fend off the other, less docile animals while getting the child 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 him and Jambo world famous.

Three decades later, Merritt spoke to the MailOnline about his close encounter, and how it's shaped his life for the better.

He’s remained in close contact with the zoo and has returned many times - 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.

The 'Gentle Giant' protected the boy until others came in to save him.
Matthew Cipolla/YouTube/ITV

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 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 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.

Featured Image Credit: Matthew Cipolla/YouTube/ITV

Topics: Animals, UK News