RIP Koko, The Signing Gorilla

koko selfie, koko national geographic, koko mirror photo

Koko (Mirror Selfie) via National Geographic

The Gorilla Foundation has sadly reported that Koko, the gorilla famed for using American Sign Language to communicate, has passed Tuesday morning in her sleep.

Koko, a Western Lowland Gorilla, was born on the 4th of July in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo. She became a key subject for research regarding the emotional and cognitive intelligence of gorillas after learning American Sign Language. She even took her own picture for National Geographic (pictured left) and the entire world fell in love.

Koko had great success with friendships. During early research she befriended a kitten “All Ball”; named for her lack of tail. She was also famously a friend of Robin Williams, and mourned his passing with the rest of us in 2014.

In addition to her cognitive and emotional research Koko participated in a language research project with psychologist Francine “Penny” Patterson. Koko’s use of American Sign Language to communicate with humans. This, in addition to her developed friendships, led researchers to learn that gorillas were capable of so much more than originally anticipated.

Koko didn’t stop wowing researchers after learning Sign: She also learned how to play the recorder! Not only did this prove that gorillas were capable of playing music, but it distinctly proved that they could control their breathing. This particular feat was deemed impossible by many scientists (that is, until Koko blew them all away!).

koko kitten, koko's kitten, koko and all ball

Koko & All Ball, via “Koko’s Kitten”


The emotional development of Koko was studied extensively after her kitten, All Ball, was hit by a car and died. Koko began to ask where her friend was, and was saddened by the news. She signed, “CAT, CRY, HAVE-SORRY, KOKO-LOVE”. She also indicated that she would need love and support to help recover from the loss of her furry friend by signing “UNATTENTION, VISIT-ME”.

Now, as she rests with Robin Williams and her beloved All Ball, The Gorilla Foundation continues to pursue research into the cognitive development of gorillas, while mourning her passing. “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. There work will continue with gorillas in Africa and Maui as we learn more about the wonderful capabilities of these animals.

The Gorilla Foundation has indicated that you can share your condolences by emailing They also accept donation via this link HERE.