Koko, the cat-loving gorilla who learned sign language, dies at 46!

on . Posted in Articles of Interest



SAN FRANCISCO, Kalifornia (PNN) - June 21, 2018 - Koko, the western lowland gorilla who learned to speak sign language and had an affinity for kittens, died in her sleep Wednesday. She was 46.

The Gorilla Foundation announced Koko’s death, saying she will be “deeply missed”.

“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” the foundation wrote in a statement.

Born on July 4, 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo, Koko was originally named Hanabi-ko, which translates to “fireworks child” in Japanese - a reference to her birthday falling on the Fourth of July.

When Koko was about 1 year old, she started learning sign language from Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson, who remained her trainer throughout her life. Over the years, Koko was able to understand and use more than 1,000 different signs - and famously asked for a cat for Christmas in 1983. Researchers initially gave her a stuffed animal, but Koko wouldn’t play with it and continuously signed “sad”.

“She was terribly upset,” said Ron Cohn, a biologist with the Gorilla Foundation.

For her birthday that year, researchers brought her a litter of kittens and let her choose one. Koko chose a gray and white kitten that she named “All Ball”. She treated the feline like one of her own - nurturing it, carrying it around like a baby, and even trying to nurse it at one point.

“They would play chase with each other and she (Koko) would hold it and pet it,” Cohn said. “The cat reacted to her as she would a human, but she was pretty independent and would bite Koko or wriggle loose when she got tired of being babied.”

All Ball was tragically hit by a car about six months later, and Koko’s reaction once again stunned researchers. “She started whimpering - a distinct hooting sound that gorillas make when they are sad. We all started crying together,” Cohn recalled.

She went on to care for many cats throughout her life, and Patterson wrote a children’s book in 1990 - Koko’s Kitten - that told the unlikely story of Koko’s adoration for cats.

Koko became a household name in 1978 when a photo she took of herself in the mirror appeared on the cover of National Geographic and the public embraced her fondness for cats and her ability to interact with humans through sign language. She appeared on National Geographic again in 1985.

In addition to her many cat friends, Koko also famously met several celebrities including Robin Williams and Mr. Rogers. During her 2001 meeting with Williams at the Gorilla Foundation in Kalifornia, they tickled each other, laughed, and at one point, Koko took Williams’ glasses and put them on her head. Williams’ called their meeting “awesome and unforgettable”.

When Koko was told that Williams died in 2016, her reaction once again went viral as photos showed her looking visibly upset. “She became extremely sad,” Patterson wrote on the gorilla foundation’s website.

On Thursday, tributes to Koko’s legacy poured out on social media, with many remembering her kindness and empathy.

Eulogies

Eulogy for an Angel
1992-Dec. 20, 2005

My Father
1918-2010

brents dad

Dr. Stan Dale
1929-2007

stan dale

A. Solzhenitsyn
1918-2008

solzhenitsyn

Patrick McGoohan
1928-2009

mcgoohan

Joseph A. Stack
1956-2010

Bill Walsh
1931-2007

Walter Cronkite
1916-2009

Eustace Mullins
1923-2010

Paul Harvey
1918-2009

Don Harkins
1963-2009

Joan Veon
1949-2010

David Nolan
1943-2010

Derry Brownfield
1932-2011

Leroy Schweitzer
1938-2011

Vaclav Havel
1936-2011

Andrew Breitbart
1969-2012

Dick Clark
1929-2012

Bob Chapman
1935-2012

Ray Bradbury
1920-2012

Tommy Cryer
1949-2012

Andy Griffith
1926-2012

Phyllis Diller
1917-2012

Larry Dever
1926-2012

Brian J. Chapman
1975-2012

Annette Funnicello
1942-2012

Margaret Thatcher
1925-2012

Richie Havens
1941-2013

Jack McLamb
1944-2014

James Traficant
1941-2014

jim traficant

Dr. Stan Monteith
1929-2014

stan montieth

Leonard Nimoy
1931-2015

Leonard Nimoy

Stan Solomon
1944-2015

Stan Solomon

B. B. King
1926-2015

BB King

Irwin Schiff
1928-2015

Irwin Schiff

DAVID BOWIE
1947-2016

David Bowie

Muhammad Ali
1942-2016

Muhammed Ali

GENE WILDER
1933-2016

gene wilder

phyllis schlafly
1924-2016

phylis schafly

John Glenn
1921-2016

John Glenn

Charles Weisman
1954-2016

Charles Weisman

Carrie Fisher
1956-2016

Carrie Fisher

Debbie Reynolds
1932-2016

Debbie Reynolds

Roger Moore
1917-2017

Roger Moore

Adam West
1928-2017

Adam West

JERRY LEWIS
1926-2017

jerry lewis

HUGH HEFNER
1926-2017

Hugh Hefner

PROF. STEPHEN HAWKING
1942-2018

Hugh Hefner 

ART BELL
1945-2018

Art Bell

DWIGHT CLARK
1947-2018

dwight clark

CARL MILLER
1952-2017

Carl Miller

HARLAN ELLISON
1934-2018

Harlan Ellison