Koko, The Gorilla Who Learned Sign Language, Has Passed




Before there were viral animal videos and Instagram famous dogs there was Koko the gorilla. Koko, 46, died in her sleep on Tuesday morning, The Gorilla Foundation said.

“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” the foundation’s statement says. “She was beloved and will be deeply missed.”

Koko was famous for learning sign language. When she was a year old Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson began teaching Koko signs language at the San Francisco Zoo. Eventually, Dr. Patterson and Dr. Ronald Cohn moved Koko to Stanford to further their research. In 1974 they established The Gorilla Foundation and moved from Stanford to the Santa Cruz Mountains.


Koko was able to communicate with humans. She knew 1,000 words in sign language and understood 2,000 spoken English words. Koko was uber famous for her ability to communicate and understand humans. She has been in many documentaries and in issues of National Geographic.

She famously bonded with Robin Williams when the late actor visited her in 2001. When Williams passed in 2014 the foundation released a tribute video of Koko and Williams. In the video, you can see how the two connected and joked around. At on point Koko took his glasses and put them on.


In 2012 Koko learned how to play the recorder. According to NPR, this was remarkable because it proved “that primates can learn to intricately control their breathing — something that had been assumed to be beyond their abilities.”

When Koko’s cat Ball died in 1984 she mourned its death. Koko taught people that animals are complex, caring and loving creatures. She brought humanity to a species that is deemed to be violent.


“The foundation will continue to honor Koko’s legacy and advance our mission with ongoing projects including conservation efforts in Africa, the great ape sanctuary on Maui, and a sign language application featuring Koko for the benefit of both gorillas and children.”

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