Western Gorilla Facts, Pictures & In-Depth Information

The western gorilla is a critically endangered primate found in the forests of Central Africa. Despite its fearsome appearance, the species is mainly herbivorous. The Cross River gorilla, one of two western gorilla subspecies, is the world’s most endangered great ape.

Read on for western gorilla facts, pictures and in-depth information…

Western Gorilla Facts At A Glance

  • Other Name(s): Lowland gorilla
  • Scientific name: Gorilla gorilla
  • Type of Animal: Mammal, member of the order Primates.
  • Animal Family: Hominidae (the great ape family)
  • Where Found: Western equatorial Africa
  • Average Height: Male: 55 m (61 in); Female: 1.35 m (53 in)
  • Weight: Male: 140 - 160 kg (308 - 352 lb.); Female: 70 – 80 kg (154- 176 lb.)
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Other Interesting Western Gorilla Facts

  • A captive western gorilla named Koko learned to use a modified version of the American Sign Language and was able to understand a large number of English words.

Meet The Western Gorilla: Introduction

silverback western gorilla
Mature male gorillas are known as 'silverbacks' due to the gray-white fur on their backs.

The western gorilla is one of two species of gorilla, the other being the eastern gorilla. Both species are found in Africa; the western gorilla (as its name suggests) is found further west than its eastern cousin.

Both western and eastern gorillas are members of the family Hominidae. Members of this family are known as great apes, or hominids. The other great apes are the chimpanzee, the bonobo, the three species of orangutan and man.

After the chimpanzee and bonobo, the gorillas are our closest living relations. We share between 95 and 99% of our DNA with gorillas!

Western Gorilla Facts: Subspecies

The western gorilla has two subspecies: the western lowland gorilla (G. g. gorilla) and the Cross River gorilla (G. g. diehli). The Cross River subspecies is the world’s rarest great ape, with only around 250–300 individuals remaining.

What Does The Western Gorilla Look Like?

You can see a group of wild western gorillas in the video below...

The western gorilla is a large, powerfully-built animal with long, muscular arms and relatively short hind legs. Its skin is black and leathery. Much of its body is covered with coarse hair that ranges from black to dark brown-grey in color. The forehead can be brown or reddish-brown. The face, ears, hands and feet are hairless.

The gorilla’s face has a protruding brow and a short muzzle with large nostrils.

At around 15 years of age, male gorillas acquire a covering of short, gray-white hair on their backs. For this reason, mature males are known as 'silverbacks'.

Juveniles up to 4 years of age have a small patch of white hair on the rump.

There is a large difference in size between male and female gorillas, with males being significantly larger and weighing up to twice as much as females. Males can also be identified by their large, sharp canine teeth and the shape of their heads, which are more conical and less rounded than those of the females.

female western gorilla
Female western gorilla

The average standing height of a western gorilla is 1.55 m (5 ft. 1 in) for males and 1.35 m (4 ft. 5 in) for females. The average weight of a wild male western gorilla is 146 kg (322 lb.).

Differences Between The Western Gorilla Vs Eastern Gorilla

The western gorilla is slightly smaller than the eastern gorilla, making it the world's second-largest living primate. Its hair is lighter in color than the eastern species, with the hair at the front of the head often being reddish-brown.

The diet of the western gorilla contains more fruit than that of the eastern gorilla, and it tends to wander further when foraging.

The western gorilla usually lives in smaller groups than the eastern gorilla.


Most of the time the western gorilla walks on all fours. It uses a form of walking known as knuckle-walking, in which the gorilla’s upper body weight is supported by the knuckles.

male western gorilla
Gorillas walk on the soles of their feet and the knuckles of their hands.

When the gorilla is threatened or when carrying food it will rise up and walk short distances on its hind feet.

Despite its large size, the western gorilla is able to climb trees. Young gorillas are nimble climbers but adults tend to stick to the main trunk and the biggest branches. Large silverbacks are the least likely members of the troop to be found in trees.

Where Is The Western Gorilla Found?

The western gorilla is found in western Central Africa.

The western lowland gorilla subspecies is present in Cameroon, Gabon, mainland Equatorial Guinea, the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, the Republic of the Congo, and parts of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Cross River gorilla subspecies is restricted to a small area which spans the border of Nigeria and Cameroon, in the vicinity of the Cross River.

Western Gorilla Habitat

The western lowland gorilla inhabits tropical forests and swamp forests in lowland areas. It favors habitat with a dense ground-level growth of herbaceous plants.

The Cross River gorilla occurs in rough terrain in remote montane forests at elevations of up to 1,900 m (6,200 ft.).

Western Gorilla Facts: Behavior

western gorilla
The western gorilla can be identified by the patch of dark brown hair on its forehead.

The western gorilla lives in groups of 5 to 15 individuals known as 'troops'. A typical troop consists of a male silverback, several adult females and their young. Larger troops may also contain one or more younger males, known as ‘blackbacks’.

The silverback leads the troop and protects it from predators such as leopards. It will also behave aggressively towards other males, who offer a potential threat to the troop’s infants.

A male gorilla’s threat display involves standing upright, chest beating, tearing at vegetation and growling loudly. He may also charge at his opponent. Although actual fighting is rare, it can result in the death of one of the combatants – a silverback will defend his troop with his life.

The species is not territorial, and the home of one troop may overlap with that of another.

The western gorilla is active during the day, spending its time both foraging for food and resting. During the night it sleeps in a nest made from vegetation. Gorilla nests are usually built on the ground. Infants share their mother’s nests until they are weaned.


The western gorilla communicates using physical gestures, facial expressions and vocalizations including screams, barks, grunts, roars, laughs, and hoots. Over 20 different calls have been recorded.

Family Life

Female western gorillas usually begin to reproduce at around 10 years of age. Males have to wait until they acquire ownership of a troop before they get the chance to mate. This usually occurs at 15 years of age, when the characteristic ‘silverback’ hair appears.

Males who haven’t yet acquired troops of their own may either live alone or in ‘bachelor groups’.

There is no distinct breeding season; females become receptive for two to three days each month. The gestation period for a western gorilla is 256 days / 8.5 months. The female typically gives birth to one infant, although twins occasionally occur.

A new-born gorilla weighs from 1.8 to 2.3 kg (4 to 5 lb.) and has a sparse covering of hair. At first, the infant is entirely dependent upon its mother. It will have started crawling and clinging to its mother by 3 months of age. An infant gorilla grows around twice as fast as a human baby.

The female nurses and carries her infant for 3 to 4 years.

A troop's silverback may often be seen playing with the group's infants. He will even look after an infant if its mother dies.

What Do Western Gorillas Eat?

The western gorilla’s diet consists mainly of plant matter. Its preferred food is fruit, which it may travel up to 4 km (2.5 mi) per day in search of, but it also eats leaves, shoots, nuts and bark.

The gorilla may also occasionally consume invertebrates such as ants, termites, worms and grubs, and small vertebrates such as rodents and lizards.

The western gorilla forages for food both on the ground and in trees. Adult males consume roughly 32 kg (45 lb.) of food every day.

Western Gorilla Predators

The western gorilla has few predators. Even a leopard would have second thoughts about attacking a full-grown gorilla.

An adult western gorilla is a large and formidable opponent and has few, if any, predators. In normal circumstances only the leopard would pose any kind of threat. Gorilla infants are more vulnerable to predation, and may be targeted by animals such as birds of prey, crocodiles, leopards and other large cats.

Is The Western Gorilla Endangered?

The western gorilla is rated ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN.

The western lowland gorilla subspecies has an estimated population of around 316,000 individuals.

The Cross River subspecies faces a high risk of extinction. Surveys carried out between 1990 and 2015 found that fewer than 250 individuals were left in the wild.

The populations of both subspecies are decreasing.

Threats to the western gorilla include:

  • Hunting: The western gorilla is frequently killed by locals hunting for bushmeat. The construction of new logging roads into forests inhabited by gorillas has increased the risk significantly. Gorillas are also injured by traps set for other animals. Hunting is currently the primary threat to the species’ survival.
  • Disease: Outbreaks of Ebola and other viruses also threaten the western gorilla. The mortality rate of an Ebola outbreak can be as high as 95%.
  • Habitat Loss: Deforestation has had a serious effect on the species. Both logging, and the clearance of forests for oil-palm plantations and other agricultural uses, has drastically reduced the gorilla’s natural habitat.

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