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Cross River Gorilla - A Critically Endangered Species

Updated on September 7, 2016
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Livingsta is a writer who writes about anything that fascinates, provokes or interests her, always putting forth her best effort and focus.

Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli).  In captivity at the Limbe Wildlife Centre, Limbe, Cameroon. This lady gorilla is called Nyango
Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli). In captivity at the Limbe Wildlife Centre, Limbe, Cameroon. This lady gorilla is called Nyango | Source

The cross river gorilla is one among the most critically endangered species in the world which is on the WWF priority species list, with a population of only 200 to 300 left in the wild. Scientists have not been able to get an exact figure on the number of gorillas because of their wariness about humans and their habituation in rugged areas. This estimate was calculated from nest counts and range sizes of these gorillas.

These gorillas are found in the lowland mountainous forests and in the rainforests of Cameroon and Nigeria. The area inhabited by them is around three thousand square miles and they are believed to be scattered across eleven regions of these forests.

These species were not known scientifically until the early part of the twentieth century. The clear physical structure of these species was first identified in 1988 and after various analyses, this subspecies was described in 2000. Not much is known about these species and hence WWF in partnership with other organisations and the government is supporting for more research on these animals.

Paul Matschie was a taxonomist who was a specialist in mammals was working at the Humboldt University Zoological Museum, Berlin. He described this new species of gorilla in 1904 based on their short skull, and the shape of the palate and skull. Later research and studies by others pushed these gorillas from species to a subspecies.

Silver back cross river gorilla gorilla diehli
Silver back cross river gorilla gorilla diehli | Source

The scientific name for this gorilla is Gorilla gorilla diehli.

Scientific classification:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Primates

Family: Hominidae

Genus: Gorilla

Species: Gorilla gorilla

Subspecies:Gorilla gorilla diehli

Abbreviations and explanation of terms used:

WWFWorld Wildlife Fund

IUCNInternational Union for Conservation of Nature

WCS - Wildlife Conservation Society


Bushmeat - meat of terrestrial wild animals

Ebola fever (also called Ebola hemorrhagic fever) - A severe and often fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys and chimpanzees) caused by the Ebola virus; characterized by high fever and severe internal bleeding; can be spread from person to person; is largely limited to Africa

Silverback - An adult male gorilla with grey hairs across the back

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cross river gorillasMature male Western gorillas are known as 'silverbacks', and are named after silvery-white hair on their back, rump and thighsLebialem Highlands, cross-river gorilla habitatRange of the cross river gorillaRange of the cross river gorilla
Cross river gorillas
Cross river gorillas | Source
Mature male Western gorillas are known as 'silverbacks', and are named after silvery-white hair on their back, rump and thighs
Mature male Western gorillas are known as 'silverbacks', and are named after silvery-white hair on their back, rump and thighs | Source
Lebialem Highlands, cross-river gorilla habitat
Lebialem Highlands, cross-river gorilla habitat | Source
Range of the cross river gorilla
Range of the cross river gorilla | Source
Range of the cross river gorilla
Range of the cross river gorilla | Source

Characteristics and behaviour of the cross river gorilla:

  • These gorillas are a subspecies of the western gorilla and they look very similar to the other western lowland gorillas with mild differences in the size of the skull and teeth and also difference in their ecological and sociological behaviour.
  • They have front facing small eyes that are placed close to each other and their skulls are small. The hair on their head is reddish in colour
  • Male gorillas can be as tall as 6 feet and weigh 180 to 220 kg while female gorillas weigh between 90 to 98 kg and can be 5 feet tall.
  • They walk on four limbs. They have opposable thumbs just like humans. They have 10 fingers and 10 toes, 32 teeth, and small ears on the side of their heads.
  • They live in small groups of between 5 to 20 individuals in a group and the different groups do not interact much with each other. A group will have one silverback, one mature male, one immature male, three to four mature females and a few offspring.

  • They live in elevated regions during the wet season and move to lower altitudes during the dry seasons.
  • Their only predators are the leopards and crocodiles and the lifespan of the cross river gorillas are 35 to 50 years
  • Their stomach is larger than the chest because of a large intestine and they need up to 18 kg food a day. They spend most of the day eating and searching for food.
  • They use various distinct sounds for communication

Cross River Gorillas, Caught on Camera

Habitat and food:

  • Cross river gorillas are found in the tropical, sub-tropical and broad-leaf forests on the borders between Nigeria and Cameroon. They prefer to live in lowlands and mid-elevation regions of rain-forests and mountainous forests and some live in the highland areas up to an elevation of 200 to 2000 meters.
  • They usually move to highlands due to threats from human hunting in lowland areas.
  • Gorillas live in groups in different locations and migrations of individual gorillas take place between these locations. Each groups’ habitat range may be as large as 20 km square and different group ranges can overlap.
  • The cross river gorillas are mostly herbivores and some omnivores and they eat fruits, leaves, stems, barks, bulbs, nuts, berries, pith and some insects. They also sometimes eat lizards and rodents.
  • They get their required water from their food.

Cross River region between Nigeria and Cameroon:
Cross River, Nigeria

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  • Reproduction is very slow where the females give birth once every four or five years.
  • Females are ready to reproduce when they are eight years old. She has to leave her group at that time and look for another troop or another silverback who is alone. The babies remain with their mother until they are a few years old.

Importance of cross river gorillas:

These cross river gorillas live in the cross river region which is called the biodiversity hotspot (One of the 34 hotspots in the world according to Conservation International).

There are so many different species of flora and fauna in this region and it is named as a “Landscape of High Conservation Priority” by the USAID’s Central African Regional Program for the Environment. Two of WWF’s Endangered Terrestrial Ecosystems lie within this region.

Cross River gorilla, Limbe Wildlife Centre, Cameroon
Cross River gorilla, Limbe Wildlife Centre, Cameroon | Source

Main threats and endangerment:

  • Since a large population of humans live close to the gorillas’ territory, illegal intrusion into the gorillas’ territory and clearing up the forests for timber, agriculture and livestock has caused a serious threat to this species. The high level of biodiversity in the gorillas’ habitat is a reason why humans prefer to use this area for agriculture. This breaks the gorilla population into isolated groups.
  • Hunting in the forests is another serious threat and with a very small population of the gorillas, loss of even one of them has a serious effect.
  • The less number of this cross gorilla population leads to inbreeding and hence a reduction or even loss in genetic diversity.
  • Loss and modification of habitat and illegal hunting for bushmeat

Gorillas - Just sharing these pictures for people to see that their babies are important to them as much as our babies are important to us

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mountain gorillasMountain gorillasMountain gorillas
Mountain gorillas
Mountain gorillas | Source
Mountain gorillas
Mountain gorillas | Source
Mountain gorillas
Mountain gorillas | Source
  • Gorilla infants have also been traded as pets. During this process, not only does the infant get abducted, but many adults get killed as these gorillas fight for their babies with their life
  • Fires are set to the farms to clear weeds and unwanted bushes and this has destroyed the outer slopes of the hills where the gorillas live.
  • Competition for food is another threat as these gorillas need a lot of food every day to maintain their body weight.
  • Roads constructed by lumbering companies pose a serious threat to the gorilla habitat and also isolates different groups of gorilla avoiding any communication or interaction between the groups.
  • Exposure to a fatal human disease caused by the Ebola virus has also been a great threat to thousands of apes since year 2000.

Cross River Gorilla Conservation

Conservation efforts:

  • WWF has worked and is still working with the Cameroon and Nigerian governments to create protected areas for these gorillas as their habitat extends along the borders of these two countries.
  • WWF has established ranger posts and set up communication equipment and systems to monitor the gorilla population established in these areas.
  • WWF with its African Great Apes Programme works with logging companies of that area to protect the wildlife areas and to fight against poaching.
  • A conservation plan for the cross river gorillas was published in 2007.
  • The Takamanda National Park was created by WCS in partnership with the Cameroon government and other partnership conservationists in 2008. This forms a trans-boundary with Nigeria’s Cross River National Park, and this helps protect these gorillas and other rare species. It is believed that around one third of the cross river gorilla population (around 115) is found in this area, and also aids with the gorillas being able to cross boundaries freely.

  • WCS has been supporting with cross gorilla research and conservation of protected areas since 1996. International workshops have been carried out to address gorilla’s conservation. Legislations and law enforcements have been improved with the pressure of WCS with the governments. Research and investigations are in progress about ecotourism and to identify if it will support local conservation projects.
  • Research on cross river gorillas’ ecology is being carried out in Afi Mountain wildlife sanctuary in Nigeria and the Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary in Cameroon (with initiatives taken by WCS), which will help WCS to take correct measures to link up the isolated gorilla populations.
  • Educational programs are carried out by WCS to help inspire the local people to work with conservationists to help monitor and guard the gorillas.

  • Hunters are encouraged to use their skills to help with research and conservation.
  • Camera traps have been set up to monitor the gorillas
  • WWF is supporting the efforts of Cameroon government to manage the Campo Ma’a National Park.
  • Nigerian Conservation Foundation which is an associate of WWF is working with communities in the cross river national park
  • Future projects are aimed at launching safe and protected wildlife passage that will enable the gorillas to move safely between the different groups.
  • Flora and Fauna International (FFI) has also worked with the local communities to stop gorilla hunting and they are now working towards ending destruction of forest habitat.

Rare Footage of Extremely Endangered Cross River Gorillas

Facts about the cross river gorillas:

  • A study of these cross river gorillas published in the American Journal of Primatology in 2007, tells that this species fights against the threats from humans, for example, by throwing sticks and lumps of grass which is a very unusual behaviour for gorillas.
  • Cross river gorillas are the most endangered of all the African apes and is on the IUCN list as one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world.
  • The only cross river gorilla in captivity is Nyango, a female cross river gorilla, who lives in the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon.
  • According to a calculation in 1989, twice the number of gorillas were killed compared to the number of gorillas born each year.
  • In 1989, a gorilla carcass cost as much as twice one’s monthly income in Nigeria, and due to conservation efforts, gorilla hunting has hugely reduced now.
  • The cross river gorillas use tools like poles and sticks to gather food and the strength of a gorilla is six times more powerful than that of a human

What can you do to help?

  • Purchase only FSC certified forest products
  • You can donate to the WWF to help protect and conserve the gorillas and their habitat
  • You can Adopt a gorilla with WWF
  • Spread the word and raise levels of awareness with everyone around you including the children


I had to hold my tears while writing part of this and other hubs and also looking at videos and pictures of how we humans torture other life. We do not have the rights to do that.

Let us all remember that;

Extinction is Forever; Let us NOT LET that happen and help save the planet!

Animals too have feelings just like we humans do. So let us stop hurting and killing them. Let us stop taking away what belongs to them.

I hope you found this information interesting and useful, and will help protect and save our planet.

Thank you.



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    • profile image


      22 months ago

      this was great I was able to finish my science project

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Indian Chef, thank you so much for your support and sharing your thoughts on this matter. I totally agree with you, and it is sad to see these activities increase with years. If only we could stop these completely.

      Thank you so much for the votes and all the shares. I really appreciate that. Have a great week ahead :-)

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi vertualit, thank you for reading. I am glad that you found this useful and interesting. Thank you for the vote. Have a good weekend!

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Kathryn, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts and concerns. Thank you for sharing. I am glad that you found this interesting. Have a good weekend!

    • vertualit profile image

      Abdus Salam 

      7 years ago from Bangladesh

      Interesting and useful hub. voting up!! thanks for sharing..

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image


      7 years ago from Windsor, Connecticut

      I enjoyed reading about these creatures. It is terrible what humans sometimes do to animals. I agree that we do not have a right to harm them. It's sad.

      I'm sharing this on HubPages, as well as on Google Plus. My father loves gorillas, so I know he will enjoy reading this.

      Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Indian Chef profile image

      Indian Chef 

      7 years ago from New Delhi India

      Isn't it strange that we do come from big apes, yet they are not enough to fill even a big football stadium and humans have reached more than 6 billion. The greed and lust for killing of humans has resulted in near extinction of this beautiful species. Thanks for creating awareness about them. Voting up, awesome, interesting, sharing here and on twitter.

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi kidscrafts, thank you. I am really pleased that you are enjoying this series. As you say, the common threats with wildlife are poaching, illegal trade, babies being abducted as pets, deforestation and human settlements. We can understand that law enforcement can be weak and hence the reason conservation organisations have teamed up everywhere and jumped in to bring in proper management and intensive monitoring of the wildlife.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for your support. Have a good weekend :-)

    • kidscrafts profile image


      7 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Thank you for this hub about the Cross River Gorillas! Great informations, nice pictures and videos. Fascinating to hear them in your second video; it almost sounds like a dog barking!

      It seems that for most of the endangered species it always come around the same problem; they dissapear because the local population wants more land so there is a destruction of their habitat or the poaching. If they don't have enough space to live, they will not reproduce and/or have enough food. Laws are not always easy to enforce!

      I hope that those gorillas can be protected and be removed one day of the critically endangered species!

      Thank you for sharing all your research on this subject, Livingsta!

      Voted up and very interesting!

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Bill, yes they are. Thank you so much. I am so glad that you found this information useful. You too have a lovely weekend my friend :-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Gorillas are fascinating creatures, aren't they? Love the information in this one, Dahlia! Excellent research and told by someone who obviously cares very much for the animals of this world.

      Have a wonderful weekend my friend.

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Joe, I am so pleased that you found this useful. As you say, yes they are poaching despite the laws to prevent illegal wildlife trade. WWF is now working with the governments to improve wildlife management and to increase protection. There are anti-poaching teams now in various areas, who patrol the protected areas, monitor the movements of wildlife and also gather evidence to prosecute these illegal traders in the court of law. Hopefully this will be 100% successful and we can see improvements before these gorillas and other wildlife species become extinct.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Have a great weekend Joe.


    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 

      7 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      This was quite an eye-opener to me, Livingsta. Thank you for your diligent research and writing of this piece. Yes, this species is on the verge of being completely wiped out. Aren't the men who hunt these beautiful animals poaching? If there are laws against hunting and killing these animals, are the respective governments of Cameroon and Nigeria making progress in arresting these hunters? Great job, livingsta! Aloha!



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