Koko, famous gorilla, critical anthropological collaborator, dies at 46

Koko

Koko the Gorilla bridged the gap between human and animal.

Koko, the western lowland gorilla who was famous for her capacity to show emotional depth and also able to effectively communicate in sign language passed away at 46 in her sleep Tuesday the 19.

Koko was internationally famous, with her ability to display more than 1,000 sign cues and also she could understand spoken English, around 2,000 words.

National Geographic had Koko twice on its cover, in October 1978, in which Koko took a selfie of herself in the mirror, making her one of the original animal selfie-takers! In January 1985 she was taken a photo of with her pet kitten. Talk about a cute gorilla!

Koko was a representative of her species, the western lowland gorilla or in scientific classification terms, Gorilla gorilla gorilla. She also spread awareness about her species being critically endangered as stated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Barabara King, author of How Animals Grieve, and a professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary wrote (via email), “Because she was smart enough to comprehend and use aspects of our language, Koko could show us what all great apes are capable of: reasoning about their world, and loving and grieving the other beings to whom they become attached."

King also added, “Equally importantly, though, she raised our awareness of the costs to animal individuals of our scientific curiosity about other sentient lives. Even as we celebrate her life, we must remember that Koko was made to live in confinement in a highly unnatural way from her infancy through her death.”

Koko was born July 4, 1971, (her original name was Hanabi-ko, which is Japanese for "fireworks child”) at the San Francisco Zoo where Researcher Francine Patterson first studied Koko in 1972 and started teaching her sign language.

Koko then moved to Stanford. Patterson and fellow collaborator Ronald Cohn initiated The Gorilla Foundation. Patterson, Cohn, and Koko then went to the Santa Cruz Mountains.

By studying Koko and other gorillas, they have displayed communication skills on a level too small children. Anne Russon, from York University, said that the use of sign language teaching in collaboration with Koko and other animals was a “great leap forward.” This is opposed to just verbal communication.

In studying Koko is was also found her emotional character was extremely similar to humans. What made Koko special was her sense of humor with a smidgen of mischievousness.

Cynthia Gorney, from National Geographic, had interviewed Koko in 1985. The start of the interview was strange, with Koko signing that she was a toilet. Patterson had yelled at her, “Koko! That is not nice."

Although the interview did get interesting when Gorney asked Koko what happens after gorilla's die. Koko had responded, “Comfortable hole bye."

Koko had also appeared in several documentaries and even funned around with Robin Williams in 2001.

The Gorilla Foundation has stated about Koko's death that they, “will continue to honor Koko’s legacy and advance our mission” via studying sign language with other great apes and initiating and helping to create more conservation projects in Africa and elsewhere, according to National Geographic.

Koko the Gorilla was and is extremely important to how apes and animals can show human-like emotions and can, in fact, communicate with us. Through research with Koko, we know animals can understand concepts such as mental depth, love, playfulness, and kindness.

To boot Koko was an animal celebrity, a selfie taker and a collaborator to humanity. Through her representation, it goes to show if she was able to communicate with us, then other animals may in some way be able to too.

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