The popular gorilla, known for her extraordinary mastery of sign language, has passed away at the age of 46. Koko died in her sleep yesterday morning.
The Gorilla Foundation announced her passing today and said: ‘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 was born on July 4, 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo and was named Hanabi-ko (Japanese for ‘Fireworks Child’). She quickly became famous after was taught sign language by Dr. Francine ‘Penny’ Patterosn.
In 1974, Dr Patterson and Dr Ronald Cohn moved Koko and the project to Stanford 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 opened the minds and hearts of millions. She was 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. Following the article, the book Koko’s Kitten was published and continues to be used in primary schools worldwide.
The foundation said in their statement: ‘Ginny’s 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 foundation will continue to honor Koko’s legacy and advance our mission with ongoing projects including conservation efforts in Africa, the great ape sanctuary on Maui, and a sign language application featuring Koko for the benefit of both gorillas and children.’