Koko, the gorilla that learned sign language, dead

Koko, the gorilla that became famous throughout the entire world for her abilities to understand spoken English and to talk with sign language has died at the age of 46.

She passed away on Tuesday, June 19th, in her sleep. This is what the Gorilla Foundation said in an official announcement published on their site.

“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy. She was beloved and will be deeply missed,” they said.

Koko was a western lowland gorilla that came to this world on July 4th, 1971 at the Zoo in San Francisco. Once she reached one year old, Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson started working with her and that is when Koko started learning the sign language.

Everyone was amazed by her capacities for both language and empathy, which is why some people even decided to include her in various documentaries. During the peak of her fame, Koko even appeared twice on the cover of the popular science magazine, National Geographic. The first time was in October 1978 and the second cover appearance happened in January 1985. Additionally, the gorilla met various celebrities, including Robin Williams, who was deeply impressed by her.

Koko’s tale began in 1971 when she was only an infant and her mother rejected her. Dr. Patterson from Stanford University saw this as a great opportunity to see if her idea of teaching an ape such as Koko how to talk was possible or not.

Over the following few years, the gorilla had already learned more than 1,000 different words in American sign language and, according to Dr. Patterson, Koko was able to talk about various subjects, about the future, to tell jokes and even to lie.

But even so, with all the evidence provided by Patterson, the scientific community has remained skeptical and critical of all these assertions. One of the main reasons why this happened is related to the close relationship between Koko and her trainer and to the fact that Patterson did not allow other researchers to have access to this project.

Koko also became famous for her love and affection for kittens and for considering them her “pets”. One of the kittens was known as All Ball.
The death of Koko ends an outstanding chapter in the scientific world and marks the loss of a genuine icon of the wildness.

“The foundation will continue to honor Koko’s legacy and advance our mission with ongoing projects including conservation efforts in Africa, the great ape sanctuary on Maui, and a sign language application featuring Koko for the benefit of both gorillas and children,” The Gorilla Foundation mentioned in their announcement.