Before the king's burial, his subjects take their time to clean his body. It is not a ritual that should be lightly interfered with and, as the mighty, fallen monarch receives his last ablutions, medical personnel are keeping a respectuful distance.
The king was a gorilla called Titus. Although he had been deposed by his son, death seemed to have restored him to his full glory. The mighty silverback was once the dominant head of a tight-knit group of the great apes whose kingdom was on the eastern slopes of the Karisoke volcano in Rwanda's border lands, and a vital figure in the battle for the survival of the species.
Rosette Rugamba, head of tourism and national parks in Rwanda, said: "The other gorillas are mourning. They are cleaning him. You have to be very careful. You can't just remove the body." The Rwanda national parks office said the 450lb, 35-year-old gorilla had "succumbed to old age" after a short illness.
Officials described Titus as "possibly the most remarkable gorilla ever known", referring to his rise to dominance of he largest known group of gorillas in the world. And Sir David Attenborough, the naturalist who was famously upstaged by Titus when the gorilla, then five, climbed on his back, said yesterday he was sorry that Titus should have died when he was still "quite young". He added: "He was a charming little animal. Certainly, it was very memorable and I haven't been allowed to forget it."
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