Published: Fri, June 22, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

Koko, the gorilla who knew sign language, has died

"The Gorilla Foundation is sad to announce the passing of our beloved Koko", the famous research center said in a press release Thursday, adding that Koko died in her sleep just weeks away from her 47th birthday on July 4. Williams made her smile.

Others in the animal research community, however, raised questions about the ethics of humanizing gorillas, who may find it hard or impossible to return to a more natural lifestyle after living among people. The gorilla's 1978 cover featured a photo that the animal had taken of itself in a mirror.

Most gorillas like Koko live in the wild for 30 to 40 years; in the care of humans, they can live as long as into their 50s, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. She then "became very somber, with her head bowed and her lip quivering", Patterson, 71, wrote at the time on She was said to enjoy many TV shows and movies, including "Golden Girls" and "Pretty Woman". In memory of Koko, we're celebrating her life with this video of her having fun with her dear friend, Robin Williams.

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Her love of animals spawned the children's book "Koko's Kitten" and her own branded line of toys.

Researchers moved her to Stanford in 1974 and established The Gorilla Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to preserve and protect gorillas. Koko was the subject of several other documentaries, including 2016's "Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks to People". He called the experience "awesome and unforgettable". Williams killed himself in 2014.

Koko was among a handful of primates who could communicate using sign language; others included Washoe, a female chimpanzee in Washington state, and Chantek, a male orangutan in Atlanta. The public saw its first glimpse of interspecies communication when Koko appeared on televised segments around the world speaking American sign language.

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