Every now and then, someone who’s made great contribution to their kind finally departs from the land of the living. It does not matter whether that someone is human or not, those who were close to them grieve their passing – even when their time had come.
Such is the case of Titus, the gorilla silverback who came to world attention through the Hollywood film about Dian Fossey’s life among the gorillas in Rwanda, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’. Titus is credited, by those who knew him, or knew of him, as a great, calm and caring gorilla king.
Titus has departed to be with his ancestors, and his friends, both human and non-human, bemoan the loss to the species. He did his species good, that is why we dedicate this newsletter to the wonderful father and leader.
Rest in Peace, Titus.
Titus Takes Final Bow
‘Gorillas in the Mist’ star dies in Rwanda
On Wednesday, 14 October, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund announced with great sadness that 35 year old Titus, the oldest known gorilla silverback in Rwanda and the star in the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ had died that morning.
Born in 1974, Titus had been the ‘king’ of his group for many years despite having gone through a tumultuous childhood plagued with death of parents and siblings in the hand of poachers. Despite his ‘underdeveloped and spindly’ appearance as described by Dian Fossey in the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist, he overcome the challenges of his childhood to become a ‘an unusually even-tempered and skillful leader’ as observed by the Fossey Fund.
Observers, according to the Fossey Fund report, believe that constant contests for leadership from newly returned son Umushikirano – nicknamed ‘Rano’ – may have hastened the death of the elderly legend.
Titus played a great role as the icon of his species. His immortalization in the 1988 Hollywood film on Dian Fosseys life, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ and the 2008 documentary of his life ‘The Gorilla King’ aired on BBC served to raise awareness about the 700 or so mountain gorillas that still cling to the Virunga Massif on the joint border of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond, who knew Titus since infancy, said: “The death of any individual who plays such an important role in his community is a sad occasion.”
Read more and support Titus species at the Gorilla Protection Blog
The Last Days of ‘King Titus’
Gorilla Doctor Jan Ramer recalls the dusk of the gentle king.
Newly installed gorilla doctor, Dr Jan Ramer received a call informing her that Ihumure, Titus little son, was in bad health and she should go give her a checkup. Little did she know that those were the last days of both father and son.
When Jan found the two in the Rwanda side of the Virunga forest after a long and physically challenging trek, she found Ihumure looking really bad. Titus was also looking tired but healthier. Jan remembers Titus looking her in the eye – a humbling experience – and describes this brief moment thus:
At one point Titus looked me in the eye, and it took my breath away. His clear, brown, kind eyes were looking into mine. I was meeting a living legend and I felt very privileged.”
Like a father and son spending their last moments in life together, Titus stuck very close to Ihumure. Titus was tired. He had had severe altercations with other silverbacks (his now silverback son Umushikirano – or Rano) in the last two weeks and he had an injured wrist probably from these confrontations. For all we know, Rano, who was not far away from where Titus and Ihumure were, may have been waiting for Titus to take the final bow from his illustrious life.
Two days later, Titus was near death, he had not moved from his nighttime rest and was barely alert. Titus was dying. After various discussions between Jan, others at Mountain Gorilla Vet Project (MGVP), including Magdalena (Magda), Jean-Felix and Veronica, Jan found out that this is how silverback gorillas fade away. Shinda took the same path.
“We determined that there was little we could do for Titus. We prepared for the necropsy. The mood was heavy at MGVP headquarters.”
Titus was looking better the next day and was eating a little. Two days later the trackers relayed the bad news. Titus was dead.
As would be expected, Rano was now the king of the group. Ihumure was devastated. Titus was his only aly. He stayed by Titus body most of that day. Rano tried to move the group away from Titus but they kept circling around his dead body. Jan says;
<“There are no words to truly express the feelings of loss that were palpable in this gorilla conservation community for the past several days.“
Titus was buried near Dian Fossey up at the original Karisoke Research Station site. Ihumure died the night after Titus was buried. In Jan’s words,
His little body was brought to MGVP headquarters for a necropsy, and this time we found the cause of death. He had severe trauma to the kidney and an intussusception of the bowel (one piece telescoped into another). We could not have saved him.
Titus was old and has contributed a lot to his species, but Ihumure was too young to die. RIP Titus. RIP Ihumure.
You can help Titus group and other mountain gorillas by supporting the work of the Gorilla Doctors. Go to their blog and donate now.
Dr Lucy Spelman: From Gorillas to Otters
One ‘Gorilla Doctor’ who may also be mourning the death of Titus is Dr Lucy Spelman. She spent many hours with the mountain gorillas in the Virungas and although she just left recently and is now taking care of otters in Guyana, she has fond memories of these patients and these ones that she worked with in the Virungas.
Dr Spelman had good success blogging at WildlifeDirect. In her website, she says;
“My first blog, “Gorilla Doctors,” ran from October 2007 through July 2009. I loved writing about my patients-and reading everyone’s comments. Even better, the blog did what it was intended to do. It raised thousands of dollars for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. Though most of the donations were small, they added up.”
It wont surprise you therefore, to learn that Dr Lucy Spelman is back at WildlifeDirect, this time blogging about otters in her new blog, Saving Otters – big and small. She hopes that the otter blog can achieve as much success as the gorilla blog, if not more.
Go see what Dr Spelman has in store for you in her blog.
Things you need to know