Koko the Gorilla

Facts about Koko

Koko the Gorilla died at 46 years old
Born: July 4, 1971
Best known as: The gorilla who used human sign language


Koko the Gorilla Biography

Koko the gorilla was a domesticated lowland ape who was taught to use human sign language.

Koko was born in the San Francisco Zoo in 1971. When the gorilla was one year old, psychologist Francine “Penny” Patterson began teaching her hand signs from American sign language; Patterson eventually credited Koko with learning a vocabulary of over 1000 signs.

Koko (a shortened form of the name Hanibiko) became internationally famous beginning in the late 1970s, with a film by Barbet Schroeder. She was the subject of many articles, both popular and academic, and was especially popular after adopting a kitten.

Some other experts disputed whether Koko truly understood sign language or was simply mimicking the humans around her, but Koko’s popularity remained undiminished.

She was one of the best-known signing apes, along with chimpanzees Nim Chimpsky and Washoe.

Extra credit

Koko was given a pet kitten by researchers in 1984. She named the kitten All Ball; sadly, the cat was hit by a car and killed later that year. A 1985 book, Koko’s Kitten, told their story… Koko was 46 when she died. According to Zoo.org, the average lifespan of a lowland gorilla is 30-35 years in the wild, 35-45 years in a zoo.


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