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Tribute to Titus
17 September 2009

The world's most famous silverback gorilla Titus – ‘The Gorilla King’ – has died.
 
He was found in his night nest in the Volcanoes National Park in the north-west Virunga Mountains in Rwanda on September 14 after dying of natural causes
 
The 35 year old mountain gorilla, who had been observed by researchers almost his entire life, became well known as a star of Dian Fossey’s book and film Gorillas In The Mist. Last year Titus starred in the BBC documentary Titus: The Gorilla King, which retraced the silverback’s eventful life.
 
Dian Fossey noted that as an infant he seemed “underdeveloped and spindly” and had difficulty breathing, but Titus overcame these difficulties. When he was four, poachers killed his father, uncle, younger brother and then his infant sister. The deaths caused his mother and older sister to flee to another group and Titus was left to live with a few unrelated males.
 
The group remained all-male for several year until five females came to join them. The leader at the time, Beetsme, drove away all the other males except Titus, who was favoured by the dominant female, Papoose. In 1991, at age 17, Titus surprised researchers when he deposed the dominant silverback, Beetsme, in a bloodless coup.
 
At the time, Rwanda was descending into civil war, forcing researchers to flee. This is the only gap in his life’s record.
 
Titus maintained his dominance until 2007 when one of his sons, Kuryama, began to provoke confrontations, until he split from the group to form his own. This marked the beginning of a stressful time as in the following two years most females transferred to other groups. Kuryama’s return a few weeks ago caused further anxiety.
 
UN Year of the Gorilla Ambassador and Gorilla Organization trustee, Ian Redmond, who knew Titus since he was two years old, says “The death of any individual gorilla who plays such an important role in his community is a sad occasion. For me it is like losing an old friend. He was the first gorilla I saw when beginning my work as Dian Fossey’s research assistant in 1976. Titus’s death from natural causes at 35 is a triumph for conservation; how wonderful that we humans have been able to leave him the space to flourish and become the most successful silverback on record, then grown old and die surrounded by his family.”
 
Titus fathered more offspring than any other gorilla observed over more than 30 years at the Karisoke Research Centre in the Volcanoes National Park. Ian Redmond says “Can the infant gorillas in Titus’s group hope to live as long as the Gorilla King? With the way the forests are dwindling, will they be able to have that same natural lifespan?”
for further information or photographs contact:

David Hewitt, Communications Manager
The Gorilla Organization, 110 Gloucester Avenue, London, Nw1 8HX
Tel: 020 7916 4974
Mobile: 07801 971123
david@gorillas.org
www.gorillas.org