R.I.P. Koko, the amazing gorilla who used sign language to communicate with humans

That time Robin Williams hung out with Koko in 2001.

Sad news out of Woodside, California:

Koko, the western lowland gorilla who mastered American Sign Language, passed away Wednesday in her sleep at the age of 46.

The Gorilla Foundation, an organization founded by Koko's beloved caretaker and teacher Dr. Penny Patterson and Dr. Ronald Cohn, released a statement:

...Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy. She was beloved and will be deeply missed.

Koko, a western lowland gorilla, was born Hanabi-ko (Japanese for “Fireworks Child”) on July 4, 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo. Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson began working with Koko the next year, famously teaching her sign language. Dr. Patterson and Dr. Ronald Cohn moved Koko and the project to Stanford in 1974 and went on to establish The Gorilla Foundation. While at Stanford the project expanded to include a second western lowland gorilla, Michael. In 1979 Koko and The Gorilla Foundation moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains where Ndume joined them as a fellow ambassador for their species.

Koko’s capacity for language and empathy has opened the minds and hearts of millions. She has been featured in multiple documentaries and appeared on the cover of National Geographic twice. The first cover, in October of 1978, featured a photograph Koko had taken of herself in a mirror. The second issue, in January of 1985, included the story of Koko and her kitten, All Ball.

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Sign Language Interpreter during Public Enemy performance

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