NATURE retraces the life of Titus, silverback leader, from birth to present reign, spanning a tumultuous period in the history of a species and a nation in The Gorilla King.
Among the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, Titus reigns as king, a position he gained with extraordinary courage, strategy and determination. The record of his life began when Dian Fossey, the famed primatologist, introduced a young researcher named Kelly Stewart to the gorillas. Stewart, daughter of film star James Stewart, was there to make the very first journal entry about young Titus, meeting and naming him in August of 1974, when he was just two days old. In the decades that followed, he was orphaned and abandoned, survived murderous poachers, and the deadly challenge of his rivals. His triumphant story is recounted by researchers and conservationists as they share their memories and archival footage of Titus, from his days as a newborn to his rise to power as a silverback.
In 1974, renowned primatologist Dian Fossey introduced a young researcher named Kelly Stewart to a gorilla family Fossey was studying. Stewart, daughter of actor Jimmy Stewart, was the first to see a tiny new baby gorilla. She named him Titus, and her journal entry began the up-close observation of his life that researchers have continued to this day. Titus’s turbulent life story, from orphan to ruler and the challenge to his throne today, is chronicled in The Gorilla King.
At 33 years old, the 400-pound silverback Titus has ruled for nearly half his life, an astonishing feat given the early trials he faced. When Titus was four, his father was slaughtered by poachers. Shortly after, his infant sister was killed in a coup attempt by an interloper named Beetsme. It wasn’t unusual; when a male outsider takes over a group, he will kill all the infants in order to sire his own offspring. Titus’s mother and other sister fled, leaving him orphaned and abandoned.
In 1991, at age 17, Titus surprised researchers when he deposed Beetsme in a bloodless coup. Titus was entering his prime, but Rwanda was descending into the chaos of civil war, forcing researchers to flee. It created the only gap in his life’s record.