Koko The Gorilla

Koko and her trainer, Francine Patterson

Weird Fact: Koko is a “talking” gorilla who understands more than 1,000 words in American Sign Language and 2,000 words in spoken English.

Born in 1971 in San Francisco Zoo, Koko is the subject of a world-famous science experiment to determine the true intelligence of gorillas. Although she can’t speak vocally like a human, she can understand spoken words and communicate her thoughts and feelings with hand signals.

Her trainer, Dr Francine Patterson, has also seen her invent new signs of her own – like the combination of signs for finger-bracelet to describe a ring.

Koko has even demonstrated that she feels emotions much like a human being. In 1984, she asked if she could have a cat – and chose out a gray male Manx as her pet, which she cared for like a baby gorilla.

But later that year, the cat escaped and was hit by a car. When Patterson explained the cat had gone, Koko signed bad-sad-bad and frown-cry-frown-sad.

Later, the gorilla was able to pick out two new kittens which became her surrogate babies.

Today, Koko is 40 years old and describes herself as a fine-gorilla-person, amazing her friends and caregivers with her intelligence and emotional depth.

To see this amazing creature in action, watch this video of her demonstrating self-awareness by recognizing her own face in a mirror (she sees glitter on her nose and tries to remove it).

 

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Learn more about Koko at The Gorilla Foundation.