The Gorilla Foundation has regretfully announced the death of one of the world’s most iconic Western lowland gorillas this week, a 46-year-old specimen named Koko. Citing their public statement on the matter, Koko passed away painlessly in her sleep from within the foundation’s California-based preserve on Tuesday.
Image Credit: The Gorilla Foundation
Koko was best known for her seemingly-innate ability to communicate with her handlers using American sign language, but she also served as an important symbol for a species recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically-endangered.
Experts have long debated whether Koko could understand what she was signaling or if she was simply mimicking her handlers after learning a few signs from them. Nevertheless, she seemed surprisingly fluent in this form of communication, and her behavior attracted researchers who wanted to learn more about her.
In addition to communicating back and forth with her handlers in sign language, Koko could allegedly respond to spoken various English words with sign language just as effectively.
Notably, most Western lowland gorillas only survive to be 35-40 years of age. While some captive specimens live to be 50 or older, it’s not a common sight. Koko’s circumstances underscore how she lived a long and productive life comprised of helping researchers develop a better understanding of interspecies communication, and it’s safe to say that she’ll be missed.
“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,” The Gorilla Foundation said.
“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.”
It's doubtful that we’ll ever see another Western lowland gorilla with a personality as unique as Koko’s, but the memories she left behind will go down in history books and live on for a long time to come.
Source: The Gorilla Foundation