The Gorilla Foundation has confirmed in a statement that Koko, the 46-year-old gorilla who was famously known to have mastered sign language has died. “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 at the San Francisco Zoo back in 1971 and begin to learn sign language early on in her life. In 1974, researchers moved to Stanford and established a non-profit organization that works to preserve and protect gorillas. Later they moved her to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The foundation said that Koko was very maternal and throughout her lifetime she had many kittens. She also liked to read and be read to and would purr at parts of a book she enjoyed. She was also no stranger to fame, several celebrities like Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robin Williams visited Koko and fell in love with her. She also was able to use sign language to communicate with them, according to the Foundation she was said to understand some 2,000 words of spoken English.
Koko also appeared in the issue of National Geographics twice and appeared in several documentaries. The first picture was of a photo she had taken of herself in the mirror.
Koko showed the public what a giant gorilla was capable of, that she could learn and be able to communicate with humans what she was feeling. Yet there was a debate in the scientific community about how deep and human-like her conversations were. “Koko the individual was super smart, like all the apes, and also sensitive, something not everyone expected from a ‘king kong’ type animal that movies depict as dangerous and formidable,” Emory University primate researcher Frans de Waal said in an email Thursday.
The Gorilla Foundation said the 280-pound western lowland gorilla died in her sleep at the foundation’s preserve in California’s Santa Cruz mountains Tuesday.