Koko, the gorilla who mastered sign language, dies at 46

Koko, the gorilla who mastered sign language, has died at the age of 46 in her sleep on the Gorilla Foundation’s preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains

(Gorilla Foundation)

Koko, the gorilla who mastered sign language and counted the actor Robin Williams and the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, among her friends, has died at the age of 46.

The Gorilla Foundation said that the western lowland gorilla died in her sleep at the foundation for the preservation of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains on Tuesday.

Koko was born at San Francisco Zoo, and Dr. Francine Penny Patterson began teaching the gorilla sign language that was a part of the Stanford University project in 1974.

She was reportedly able to communicate with people with 1,000 words of sign language and was able to understand 2,000 words of spoken English.

The foundation said Koko’s capacity for language and empathy opened the minds and hearts of millions.


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

Koko has appeared in several documentaries and two times in the National Geographic in 1978 and 1985. The gorilla’s 1978 cover featured a photo that the animal had taken of himself in a mirror.

The foundation said that it will honour Koko’s legacy with a sign language application with Koko in favor of the gorillas and children, as well as other projects.

When “Good will Hunting” actor Williams committed suicide in 2014, Koko was said to have been especially angry.

The couple tied in 2001, when Williams visit to the foundation, and Koko insisted he tickle her and also wanted to try on his glasses.

The staff at the Gorilla Foundation explained to Koko that a friend of the center had died, which resulted in Koko hunching over in grief and her quivering lip.

“Robin’s ability to just ‘hang out’ with Koko, a gorilla, and in minutes become one of her best friends, was extraordinary and unforgettable,” Patterson wrote in the time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Chris Irvine is Senior News Editor at Fox News. His Twitter @chrisirvine86

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