Saturday, June 23, 2018

Koko the Gorilla Passes On

Koko and Dr. Patterson
Koko the Gorilla, who was known for having learned quite a few hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language, died on June 19 2018 at the age of 46.

Koko was born Hanabiko (literally "fireworks child" in Japanese) on July 4 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo. She was loaned to Francine "Penny"  Patterson at a young age and subsequently lived her life at The Gorilla Foundation's preserve in Woodside, California. Koko was only one year old when Dr. Patterson began learning hand signs. Dr. Patterson claimed that Koko knew more than 1000 signs, and even learned to give people "the finger".

On Koko's birthday in 1984 she was given a male kitten which she named "All Ball". Sadly, All Ball got outside and was hit by a car later that year. Fortunately she would have better luck with other pet cats. Over the years Koko would also get to meet several human celebrities. A fan of Mister Rogers since she was only a year old, Koko had the opportunity to actually meet Fred Rogers. In 2004 she met Betty White, who would even go onto write an entire chapter in her book If You Ask Me about Koko. She met Robin Williams one afternoon and the two played together. She also met Leonard DiCaprio, William Shatner, Sting, and even primatologist Dame Jane Goodall. Many of the celebrities made tweets upon learning of Koko's death and Dr. Goodall even wrote a post on their meeting on her blog.

There has always been debate over the extent to which Koko knew and understood sign language, and the extent to which her handlers read things into what Koko signed. While this controversy may never subside, I think one thing can be certain: Koko was a gentle creature who had a special bond with other animals. She took very good care of her kittens over the years, caring for them much as she would a baby gorilla. She clearly enjoyed the company of humans, and she charmed the many that she met. Indeed, Betty White, who served on The Gorilla Foundation’s Board from 2004 to 2016, regarded Koko as a friend. It was largely because of Koko's gentle and giving nature that humanity's perception of gorillas changed. Previously portrayed as aggressive creature in many films (such as the classic King Kong), Koko showed that they were actually kind, caring creatures.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

I was surprised at how moved I was by the news of Koko's passing. Thanks for this charming remembrance.