The worlds coolest gorilla has died (yes even cooler than Harambe). You see this Gorilla could speak with humans using real words.
Koko the gorilla was one of the few primates who were taught ASL (American Sign Language), and surely the most famous. She knew over 1000 signs and was capable of complex conversation.
Experiments such as teaching Koko ASL became frowned upon after Koko became famous. Why should we mess with nature?
I couldn’t disagree more. Koko faced many hardships, such as her cat dying. But Koko was a happy gorilla, and a gorilla who wished to understand the world she lived in. In the end she probably taught us more than we taught her.
I think experiments like these should go on. In fact I would love to see what a colony of primates would do with the skill of advanced language. Not in the wild perhaps but in a habitat where they are treated well.
Only time will tell if we will see more instances similar to Koko.
“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” the statement said. “She was beloved and will be deeply missed.”
Following message is from one of our members who had the privilege to meet Koko:
As a biology student at Stanford in the early 80’s I had the pleasure of seeing you demonstrate your linguistic skills for us wide eyed young people. What struck me most seeing you at the demonstration, was your gentleness, kindness, and humanity. You were a beautiful young woman when I met you, and I am glad you lived to become a wise old lady. You taught our world that which I have known all my life. There is no difference between humans and the rest of the animal world. We are all one and the same amino acids, nucleotides, appetites, and emotions.
Thank you and rest in peace
Keyhan Farkhondepay Aryah MD
Stanford class of 81, MS in biology 83
Koko had many high standing friends! Check out these wonderful videos to see for yourself why Koko was so special:
Carl Sagan talks beautifully about primates who were taught sign language in his book “The Dragons of Eden”. That’s where I first heard about that being possible.
Sagan makes a strong case for the rights of animals: “If they are ‘only’ animals, if they are beasts which abstract not, then my comparison is a piece of sentimental foolishness. But chimpanzees can abstract. Like other mammals, they are capable of strong emotions. They have certainly committed no crimes. I do not claim to have the answer, but I think it is certainly worthwhile to raise the question: Why, exactly, all over the civilized world, in virtually every major city, are apes in prison?” (113). It is especially interesting to see the abilities of chimps to manipulate language. A great point is made that chimps are not “dumb” because they cannot talk; they cannot talk because their mouths and throat did not evolve for human language. Thus, the great dexterity of apes allows for sign language to be the best mode of chimp to human communication. Sagan captures my thoughts exactly when he postulates, “One of the most intriguing questions is whether a verbally accomplished chimpanzee mother will be able to communicate language to her offspring. It seems very likely that this should be possible and that a community of chimps initially competent in gestural language could pass down the language to subsequent generations” At the time of publication, no studies had been accomplished, due to the danger of keeping adult chimpanzees; all experiments are abandoned when the chimp reaches puberty. Source
Here you can find other instances of primates who were taught sign language.
So what happens now that Koko has passed? The Gorilla Foundation says it will honor her legacy by working with wildlife conservation in Africa, a great ape sanctuary in Maui, Hawaii, and a sign language app.
This article doesn’t even begin to describe the life of Koko, so do yorself a favor and watch a documentary about Koko. You will not be disapointed!
Koko.org has now crashed (a testament to her popularity), but here’s a copy of the press release the Gorilla Foundation released:
PRESS RELEASE for Immediate Release
The Gorilla Foundation is sad to announce the passing of our beloved Koko
Woodside, CA Koko — the gorilla known for her extraordinary mastery of sign language, and as the primary ambassador for her endangered species — passed away yesterday morning in her sleep at the age of 46.
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.
Koko, a western lowland gorilla, was born Hanabi-ko (Japanese for “Fireworks Child”) on July 4, 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo. Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson began working with Koko the next year, famously teaching her sign language. Dr. Patterson and Dr. Ronald Cohn moved Koko and the project to Stanford in 1974 and went on to establish The Gorilla Foundation. While at Stanford the project expanded to include a second western lowland gorilla, Michael. In 1979 Koko and The Gorilla Foundation moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains where Ndume joined them as a fellow ambassador for their species.
Koko’s capacity for language and empathy has opened the minds and hearts of millions. She has been featured in multiple documentaries and appeared on the cover of National Geographic twice. The first cover, in October of 1978, featured a photograph Koko had taken of herself in a mirror. The second issue, in January of 1985, included the story of Koko and her kitten, All Ball. Following the article, the book Koko’s Kitten was published and continues to be used in elementary schools worldwide. Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world.
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.
For press inquiries or to make a tax-deductible donation to the Koko Fund, please contact Joy Chesbrough, The Gorilla Foundation’s Chief Development Officer, at: 1-800-ME-GO-APE ext 14.
For general inquiries and condolences, please email [email protected]