Koko the Gorilla, Who Mastered Sign Language and Loved Kittens, Dies at 46

The gorilla is famous for being able to express her emotions through sign language, even mourning the death of celebrity friend Robin Williams

Koko, likely the world’s most famous gorilla, has died.

The Gorilla Foundation, the California-based non-profit the 46-year-old primate called home, announced the news on Thursday. According to a press release from The Gorilla Foundation, Koko died in her sleep on Tuesday just several days shy of her 47th birthday on July 4.

National Geographic's Editor shares a drink with Koko the go
Robert Madden/National Geographic/Getty

In her long life, Koko mastered over 1,000 American Sign Language signs taught to her by her caretaker, reports BBC. With these signs, Koko was able to express her feelings, showing joy over receiving a pet kitten and sadness of the death of celebrity friend Robin Williams. Through this communications and countless more, the gorilla gained fans worldwide who marveled at her ability to connect with humans and made them questions the intelligence of animals.

“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 Gorilla Foundation said in its statement.

Penny Patterson with Koko the Gorilla

According to NPR, Koko was born at the San Francisco Zoo and chosen as a young primate for a language project with psychologist Penny Patterson. This work to teach Koko how to communicate has expanded over time, with Koko being purchased by The Gorilla Foundation and moved to Woodside, California, where more time could be dedicated to her care. Beyond learning to express herself through sign language, Koko also learned how to care for a pet, play the recorder and many more impressive feats.

Her ability to connect with others will not soon be forgotten. Tributes to the trailblazing primate are already filling up social media. Those who want to send their condolences directly to those that worked with and cared for Koko can email them too kokolove@koko.org.

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