By KATHRYN KNIGHT
Want a bite? Pierre Thivillon offers the two-year-old Digit a snack. She has been part of the family for 13 years
Like most devoted parents, Pierre and Eliane Thivillon know their 13-year-old’s little idiosyncrasies inside out. She is partial to a milky coffee and a brioche for breakfast, while her favourite evening meal is a portion of leeks in a creamy sauce.
She prefers sparkling water to still, and absolutely loves her sleep, complaining vociferously if she gets woken up too early.
Yes, she has her moody moments — what teenager doesn’t? — but, in general, she has a calm and placid nature.
Sweet dreams: Eliane Thivillon and Digit catch 40 winks. If Pierre rises early, the gorilla will often clamber into his place to snuggle alongside his wife
Which is just as well because not only does their ‘little girl’ weigh 80k (12st 8lb), but she is covered in fur, and, were she so minded, she could kill her ‘parents’ with just one over-zealous hug. Not that there’s much risk of that.
Because while Digit may be a fully-grown gorilla, for the past 13 years the Thivillons have raised her as lovingly as if she were their own daughter at their home in the hills west of Lyon, France.
And their bond, they insist, is as close and loving as that of any conventional (human) family.
While Digit spends her days swinging, scratching and parading around a roomy enclosure, each evening she tootles across a covered walkway into Pierre and Eliane’s bedroom where the house-trained gorilla hunkers down for the night alongside them, snuggled under a duvet.
Digit at one-month. She weighed just two kilos (4lb 6oz), and her life hung in the balance as the Thivillons tried to nurse her back to strength
If Digit is thirsty, she has no qualms about shaking Pierre awake to get her a drink of water, and if he rises first she will often clamber into his place to snuggle up alongside his wife.
Once everyone is up and about, this rather unusual trio eat breakfast together as a family before taking a morning stroll.
Monkey business: The eight-month-old Digit playing with her favourite cuddly toy
It is an extraordinary situation; one that is believed to be unique in the world — and little wonder. Gorillas may be wonderful creatures to look at, but given their size and strength, not many of us would fancy keeping one as a family pet.
Not so the Thivillons.
‘With Digit, I am never afraid,’ says Pierre.
‘I trust her implicitly, and that goes both ways — she has enormous confidence in us too. If she gets a splinter in her hand she will come to me to remove it.
‘The other day she had pineapple between her teeth and held her mouth open so I could floss it out with a stick. She has never shown a moment of aggression towards us. She just likes us being with her.’
Urbane gorilla: Digit aged four. The Thivillons have not had a night out for 13 years as they won't leave her alone
Digit with Pierre and Eliane today. Married for 43 years, and with no children of their own, the Thivillons have dedicated their lives to animal conservation
Digit's affection for Pierre is immediately apparent
'Just because Digit has this wonderful bond with me and Eliane doesn't mean she is sympathetic to humans in general,' said Pierre