Koko, the famous western lowland gorilla who was known for mastering sign language, painting, and mothering kittens, has died in her sleep at the age of 46.
She was featured in several documentaries and was on the cover of National Geographic twice. The 1978 cover featured a picture taken by Koko of herself in a mirror.
Koko the gorilla, pictured here on the October 1978 cover of National Geographic, has died at 46. pic.twitter.com/DlHANqVYlE
— National Geographic (@NatGeoMag) June 21, 2018
Born on July 4, 1971 in the San Francisco Zoo, she was named “Hanabi-ko”, which is Japanese for “Fireworks Child”.
Koko was taught sign language early on. She mastered over 1,000 signs and understood 2,000 words of spoken English. The Gorilla Foundation says she liked to be read to, purring when her favorite parts were read. She painted. She loved kittens. She had several of them in her lifetime, starting with the first “All Ball”, so named because he looked like a little ball to her.
Gen X children grew up with the book Koko’s Kitten. Millennials, too.
RIP Koko. The 'Koko's Kitten' book was a staple of my childhood in the 1980s. pic.twitter.com/NnPbtuNSHV
— Marcus Gilmer (@marcusgilmer) June 21, 2018
Famous herself, Koko met with several celebrities over the years. Mr. Rodgers, for instance.
Koko meets Mr. Rogers, her favorite celebrity: pic.twitter.com/pUXlic2nEH
— laura olin (@lauraolin) June 21, 2018
— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) June 21, 2018
And Robin Williams.
For people my age, Koko was part of our childhoods – I remember learning about the huge ape who cradled her pet kitten and communicated through sign language.
While Koko taught us much about gorillas, she perhaps teaches us even more about ourselves as humans. She was creature with enormous strength who used that strength to gently nurture the weaker creatures that came into her life. She made friends with species that were not her own and mourned them when they died. She made people smile and laugh and wonder at the amazing world we live in. To strive to be a little more like Koko would not be a bad thing these days.
Farewell, Koko. Thank you for the memories and the lessons you taught us.