Breaking! The Gorilla Foundation Announces Heartbreaking Loss Of Koko, An Icon For Interspecies Communication & Empathy

Photos from The Gorilla Foundation

It is with heavy hearts that WAN shares the news that Koko, the gorilla known for her extraordinary mastery of sign language, and as the primary ambassador for her endangered species, passed away Tuesday morning in her sleep at the age of 46.

A western lowland gorilla, Koko 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 which eventually relocated to the Santa Cruz Mountains.

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.

Following the article, the book Koko’s Kitten was published and continues to be used in elementary schools worldwide. 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 late Robin Willimas was among Koko’s greatest admirers. The two became friends in 2011.

According to the organization, the day of Williams untimely passing on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, Koko and Penny and Ron were together when phone calls started coming in about the sad event.  After the first call, Koko came to Dr. Patterson with an inquiring look on her face. Dr. Patterson explained that “we have lost a dear friend, Robin Williams.”  Koko was quiet and looked very thoughtful.

The foundation will continue to honor Koko’s legacy and with its 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.

“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” The Gorilla Foundation said in a statement. “She was beloved and will be deeply missed.”

But never forgotten!

Ways people can honor Koko and her legacy can be found HERE!

May you rest in peace sweet Koko!

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