Interesting Facts About Koko: The Famous Signing Gorilla

After 46 years of learning, making new friends, and challenging ideas about language, Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at her home at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California on June 21, 2018. Koko first gained recognition in the late 1970s for her ability to use sign language, but it was her friendly personality that made her a beloved icon.
Hanabiko “Koko” (July 4, 1971 to June 19, 2018) was a female western lowland gorilla who was known for having learned a large number of hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language (ASL). Koko was born at the San Francisco Zoo and lived most of her life in Woodside, California, at The Gorilla Foundation’s preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The name “Hanabiko”, lit. “fireworks child,” is of Japanese origin and is a reference to her date of birth, the Fourth of July. Koko gained public attention upon a report of her having adopted a kitten as a pet and creating a name for him.
Her instructor and caregiver, Francine Patterson, reported that Koko was able to understand more than 1,000 signs of what Patterson calls “Gorilla Sign Language” (GSL). In contrast to other experiments attempting to teach sign language to non-human primates, Patterson simultaneously exposed Koko to spoken English from an early age. It was reported that Koko understood approximately 2,000 words of spoken English, in addition to the signs.
Koko’s life and learning process has been described by Patterson and various collaborators in a number of books, peer-reviewed scientific articles, and on a website.
Below are SIX facts you should know about the history-making ape:
1. When Koko, the gorilla famous for knowing sign language, was asked where gorillas go after death, she responded by signing “Comfortable hole, bye.”
2. As with other great-ape language experiments, the extent to which Koko mastered and demonstrated language through the use of these signs is disputed.
It is generally accepted that she did not use syntax or grammar, and that her use of language did not exceed that of a young human child. However, she has scored between 70-95 on different IQ scales and experts including Mary Lee Jensvold claim that “Koko…[uses] language the same way people do.”
3. Researchers at The Gorilla Foundation said that Koko asked for a cat for Christmas in 1983. Ron Cohn, a biologist with the foundation, explained to the Los Angeles Times that when she was given a lifelike stuffed animal, she was less than satisfied.
She did not play with it and continued to sign “sad”. So on her birthday in July 1984, she was able to choose a kitten from a litter of abandoned kittens.
4. Koko’s weight of 280 pounds (127 kg) was higher than would be normal for a gorilla in the wild, where the average weight is approximately 150–200 pounds (70–90 kg), but the foundation stated that Koko “is, like her mother, a larger frame Gorilla”.
5. She Changed What We Knew About Language. Not only did Koko use language to communicate—she also used it in a way that was once only thought possible in humans. Her caretakers have reported her signing about objects that weren’t in the room, recalling memories, and even commenting on language itself. Her vocabulary was on par with that of a 3-year-old child.
6. She had famous friends. Koko received many visitors during her lifetime, including some celebrities. When Robin Williams came to her home in Woodside, California in 2001, the two bonded right away, with Williams tickling the gorilla and Koko trying on his glasses. But perhaps her most famous celebrity encounter came when Mr. Rogers paid her a visit in 1999. She immediately recognized him as the star of one of her favorite shows, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and greeted him by helping him take off his shoes like he did at the start of every episode.

Leave a Reply, No Login Necessary.