Koko, Gorilla Who Knew Sign Language, Dies At 46

6_21_Koko the Gorilla

The western lowland gorilla was selected as an infant by animal psychologist Dr. Francine "Penny" Patterson, who developed a language research project created to teach a modified form of American Sign Language, known as "Gorilla Sign Language" or GSL. Shortly after, Francine "Penny" Patterson, then a 24-year-old graduate student at Stanford University, began working with Koko as part of her doctoral research, known as Project Koko.

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", the Foundation said in a statement. Williams made her smile.

Through her communications and intelligence, Koko gained fans around the world who marveled at her ability to connect with humans. Even Koko's gorilla companion at the compounded, Ndume, is in a sad state, signing "sad". Sadly, Koko died on Tuesday at age 46. At press time, the Gorilla Foundation's website with the press release announcing her death was experiencing technical difficulties due to high amounts of traffic.


Koko was born at the San Francisco Zoo on July 4, 1971.

Her keepers said she understood some spoken English, too. At left, Koko indicates "eat" with bunched fingertips to her lips and gets her prize, at right. Koko had been watching Mister Rogers on television since she was just a baby gorilla, and the two became fast friends, according to The Gorilla Foundation.

The pair bonded in 2001 when Williams visited the foundation, and Koko insisted he tickle her and also wanted to try on his glasses. Koko exhibited another one of her talents on the 1978 National Geographic cover, which featured a photo of her that she had taken in the mirror. The pair inspired a book called Koko's Kitten. We shared interspecies laughter.

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