Koko, Beloved Gorilla Who Used Sign Language, Dies At 46
Koko, a western lowland gorilla who endeared hundreds by learning sign language, died at a preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California on Wednesday at age 46.
Sign-Language Gorilla Koko Dies At 46
The Gorilla Foundation, the nonprofit wildlife conservation group that took care of Koko, announced her death in a statement.
According to Livescience.com, Koko could understand more than 1,000 words in the English language. Her case helped raise awareness about endangered gorillas across the globe.
“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” TGF representatives said in the statement. “She was beloved and will be deeply missed.”
Gorillas continue to face many threats including poaching and humans’ destruction of their natural habitats, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In January 2017, Koko appeared in a YouTube music video about climate change. The song, which the Laurel Canyon Animal Company helped create, was called “Man Stupid.”
The song was released around the same time President Donald Trump, a vehement climate change denier along with many others in his administration, took office.
Francine “Penny” Patterson, now the president and director of research at TGF, is reportedly the person who taught Koko a version of American Sign Language after receiving her doctorate in developmental psychology at Stanford University.
According to Live Science, two of the gorilla’s former caretakers settled a lawsuit with TGF in 2005, alleging that they were let go by the foundation after they refused Patterson’s recommendation that they expose their breasts to Koko — something Patterson often did — as a means to form a close, trusting relationship with the animal.
Koko is reportedly survived by her current partner, a 400-lb. (181 kilograms) male named Ndume.
Koko reportedly loved cats and even once met late actor and comedian Robin Williams.