The Gorilla King

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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.

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.

Follow the entire saga of Titus’s reign in The Gorilla King.

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Online content for The Gorilla King was originally posted April 2008.