By Amanda Froelich,
Koko the gorilla, who gained notoriety for her ability to communicate in sign language, has passed away at the ripe age of 46. According to The Gorilla Foundation, she was taken by old age in her sleep.
“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,” said the Foundation in a statement.
The gorilla’s story began in 1971, when her mother, a gorilla living in captivity at the San Francisco zoo, rejected her. As IFLScience reports, this opened up the unique opportunity for Stanford University graduate Penny Patterson to try and teach the ape how to talk.
In the early stages of Koko’s life, Patterson taught the gorilla over 1,000 different words in American Sign Language (ASL). Over the next four decades, the pair worked closely together. Patterson became more than Koko’s trainer, but her mother, friend, and interpreter.
Patterson claimed that Koko could talk about the future, tell jokes, rhyme, and even lie. The scientific community always remained critical of these assertions, however. This is mainly due to Patterson’s close relationship with the gorilla.
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons learned from Project Koko is that animals, particularly great apes, are intelligent, sentient and emotional beings. As people acknowledge this truth, hopefully, violence against all creatures will cease.
Koko was the cover girl for National Geographic (twice!), was introduced to celebrities such as Robin Williams, and was known worldwide as the ape that could “talk.” Perhaps one of the greatest lessons learned from Project Koko is that animals, particularly great apes, are intelligent, sentient and emotional beings. The celebrated icon of conservation will be missed, but her legacy will live on.
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