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5TF: Titus—10th Anniversary

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Fact 1

Titus became part of a bachelor group at age 5.

Titus faced numerous upheavals as a youngster, including the loss of significant family members to poachers and the subsequent disintegration of his natal group. When Titus was 4 years old, poachers killed his father Uncle Bert, his uncle Digit, and his younger brother. Soon after, a newly arrived silverback named Beetsme killed Titus’ infant sister, causing his mother and older sister to flee to another group. Following these losses, Titus became part of an all-male group, with Beetsme as the dominant silverback. The group remained all-male for several years, until another group’s silverback died and five females came to join the bachelors. Beetsme eventually drove off all the other males except for Titus, who was favored by Papoose, the dominant female. After Beetsme began to age, Titus eventually took over leadership and successfully sired numerous offspring.

Fact 2

Titus was the subject of the PBS Nature series documentary “Gorilla King.”

“The Gorilla King” features current Karisoke staffers Veronica Vecellio (who writes many of our Gorilla eNews updates) and Felix Ndagijimana, as well as numerous scientists who observed Titus in his earlier years. Many other Karisoke and Fossey Fund staff also helped in all aspects of the film, including the research and filming.

The story of Titus is really “an epic soap opera,” says Fred Kaufman, executive producer of the NATURE series. “Titus gives us the opportunity to present something more than just the behavior of an anonymous group of animals. Here we have the other layer of the story, the background, the social structure, the politics. It’s rare to be able to get this kind of rich history,” Kaufman says.

#1.216 Group 4 March 1977 – Titus and Kweli playing


Fact 3

Titus’ leadership style changed the way researchers view the male hierarchy.

As Titus matured in his bachelor group, he gradually challenged the dominant silverback, Beetsme, for leadership. At age 17 he finally succeeded in taking over. Interestingly, he allowed Beetsme to remain as an assistant, helping to protect the group, until Beetsme’s death in 2001. This challenged the assumptions previously held by primatologists that male gorillas could not form a group together, and that a dominant male would have to leave his group after being usurped by a younger male.

Fact 4

Titus took on a mother’s role for multiple infants.

During an interaction with Isabukuru, the female Bukima transferred from Titus’ group to Isabukuru’s. Due to the transfer, Bukima left behind a 3 year old infant named Ihumure. Although Ihumure was old enough to feed himself, he still needed the social and physical care typically given by a mother gorilla. Titus demonstrated his kind nature by taking care of Ihumure, as he did in the past for two other young gorillas after the transfers of their mothers. Observations of their nest sites showed that since the day Bukima left, Titus and Ihumure had slept together in twin nests, which provided the necessary warm body contact for the infant. Similar behavior is observed during the daytime, where Ihumure was always nearby Titus or resting with him in physical contact during the heavy rains and cold days of the April rainy season. Normally a mother would do this, but after the transfer, Titus’s group was composed entirely of males, with the exception of one female.

Fact 5

We speculate that Titus’ image is on the Rwandan franc.

Titus had a very distinct noseprint that researchers and field staff were easily able to identify. The current Rwandan money has an image of a silverback gorilla and the people who knew Titus say the gorilla on the money has a very similar noseprint. 

Due to this, we like to think that it is an image of Titus on the money. And since Titus was such an extraordinary leader and silverback we believe that is exactly where he deserves to be!