In March of this year, a Cross River silver-back gorilla entered a community of Pinyin people in Santa Subdivision, North-west Cameroon. One villager raised the alarm and panic-driven mayhem followed. This frightened the gorilla, who tried to flee. But, they managed to corner him. The Chief of Gendarmerie Brigade based in Pinyin ordered the villagers to kill him. The terrified, elderly (forty-year old) silver-back was shot over forty-five times, clubbed and stoned to death, and left in a pool of his own blood.
These people, it transpired, did not act out of fear, but were whipped into a cold-blooded frenzy of uncontrollable excitement masquerading as self-defence.
Since this deeply sad and barbaric event, steps have been taken to educate and sensitise the local population about the importance of wildlife, and warnings have been issued about the consequences of future killings such as this.
Like so many other species, the Cross River gorilla depends heavily on conservation laws, and the enforcement of them, to ensure its survival.
Cross River gorillas are highly endangered, with less than three hundred known to be left in existence. They can be quite difficult to observe due to their sometimes inaccessible locations. A lot of what is known about them comes from nest analysis, feeding trails and eye-witness reports by local huntsmen. Though, there have been some sightings, observations have been made and rare footage is available.
The Cross River gorilla is one of the great apes, and a subspecies of the western gorilla. Differing slightly from other gorillas, they have smaller heads, eyes and teeth. They are equipped with opposable thumbs and are quadrupedal. Cross River gorillas have also been observed throwing things, possibly in self-defence, and using basic tools in order to access food.
Males can reach a height of six feet and weigh in at over four hundred pounds. Both male and female have a greyish coat with a reddish-brown patch on top of their heads. Life span is usually thirty-five to fifty years.
Cross River gorillas are sociable animals and live in troops led and protected by the alpha male, who has his pick of the females. Like other gorillas, they reproduce at a slow rate, females giving birth only once every four to five years. The babies will remain with their mother for a couple of years before claiming their independence.
Submontane tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests.
On the border of Cameroon and Nigeria. There are now eleven known localities.
What they eat
Fruit, tree bark, pith, leaves and stems. The water content in the food they eat is so high, they rarely need to drink extra water.
Habitat loss due to illegal logging, oil palm plantations (yet again), subsistence agriculture, cattle grazing and road networks. Due to their low numbers and highly fragmented distribution, there could be the risk of inbreeding leading to loss of genetic diversity. As with most primates, the problem of slaughter for the bushmeat trade and traditional medicine have been very much in evidence. The Cross River gorilla has very few natural predators.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. It is also listed in CITES Appendix I, on Class A of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (1969) and Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). Two parks have been established for the protection of the Cross River gorilla; Takamanda National Park in Cameroon and the Cross River National Park in Nigeria. There are laws protecting the species, but they are rarely enforced. Only one Cross River gorilla is known to be kept in captivity. Named Nyango, she lives in the Limbe Wildlife Center in Cameroon. It is estimated less than three hundred of the species are left in the wild.
“Deliberate cruelty to our defenceless and beautiful little cousins is surely one of the meanest and most detestable vices of which a human being can be guilty”
William Ralph Inge