Koko the Gorilla Using Sign Language

Goodbye, Koko: The Gorilla Who Changed Everything

She learned how to communicate her thoughts and feelings to humans through sign language.

She changed humanity's understanding of animal nature — Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at age 46, The Gorilla Foundation announced on Thursday. Shortly after her birth at the San Francisco Zoo in 1971, Koko was selected to partner with psychologist Francine Patterson for a language research project. Koko and Patterson together taught the world about gorillas' capacity for language and empathy. Koko famously learned sign language and how to play the recorder. "Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world," The Gorilla Foundation said in a statement.

Here, in 1975, Koko asks Patterson for an orange by extending her left arm away from her body, at left. At right, Koko gives the orange sign with her right hand, using a clockwise rotation of clenched fist pressed to her lips. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive Here, in 1975, Koko asks Patterson for an orange by extending her left arm away from her body, at left. At right, Koko gives the orange sign with her right hand, using a clockwise rotation of clenched fist pressed to her lips. Koko gives the &quot;to listen&quot; sign in sign language, telling Patterson she wants to listen to the phone. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive Koko gives the "to listen" sign in sign language, telling Patterson she wants to listen to the phone. June Monroe (center), an interpreter for the deaf at St. Luke&#39;s Church, helped teach Koko sign language. In 1984, a kitten named Ball, who Koko spent significant time with, died. When Patterson asked Koko in sign language, &quot;What happened to Ball?&quot; Koko <a href="https://www.npr.org/2018/06/21/622160278/koko-the-gorilla-dies-redrew-the-lines-of-animal-human-communication" target="_blank">signed back</a>: &quot;cat, cry, have-sorry, Koko-love,&quot; demonstrating animal emotion to a degree humans had never understood before. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive June Monroe (center), an interpreter for the deaf at St. Luke's Church, helped teach Koko sign language. In 1984, a kitten named Ball, who Koko spent significant time with, died. When Patterson asked Koko in sign language, "What happened to Ball?" Koko signed back: "cat, cry, have-sorry, Koko-love," demonstrating animal emotion to a degree humans had never understood before. In 1980, Koko shared a drink with a National Geographic editor. Koko graced the cover of the magazine in 1978 and 1985, helping to grow her fame and cement her status as one of the country&#39;s most beloved primates. Robert Madden/National Geographic/Getty Images In 1980, Koko shared a drink with a National Geographic editor. Koko graced the cover of the magazine in 1978 and 1985, helping to grow her fame and cement her status as one of the country's most beloved primates.

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