Koko, The Gorilla Who Learned How To Communicate With Sign Language, Has Passed Away

Koko was most famous for learning sign language to be able to speak to humans. She first became known across the world in the 80’s but she’s been in the news every once and awhile since then.

It’s been reported that she has passed away in her sleep on June 20th at The Gorilla Foundation’s preserve in the mountains in Santa Cruz, California.


A press release was shared by the foundation and it reads:

“Koko – the gorilla known for her extraordinary mastery of sign language, and as the primary ambassador for her endangered species – passed away yesterday [Wednesday] morning in her sleep at the age of 46.

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 originally named Hanabi-ko which is Japanese for ‘fireworks child’ which is because she was born on July 4th, 1971.


Originally what was supposed to be a loan, Koko came the United States in 1974 to see Francine ‘Penny’ Patterson for her research.

Over the years, Koko learn over 1000 signs in ASL, aka American Sign Language. Moreover, she was able to comprehend over 2000 words in English when spoken. To cap it all off, her IQ was between 75 and 95. To put that in perspective, a human’s average IQ is 100.


The statement went onto read:

“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.”

Back in 2001 Koko made the news when she met Robin Williams. She tried on his glasses and Robin tickled Koko. Williams called it a “mind altering experience.” Now that both of these souls are gone for us, you can’t help but hear the relevance of what Williams has to say in this video:

Years ago, Koko even taught her Youtube audience how to sign.

People have been commenting on Koko’s Facebook page with comments such as:

“Legit bawling like a baby right now. This news just breaks my heart. From an early age I was fascinated with Koko and she taught me so much about love, kindness, respect for animals, and our planet.”

“My heart is broken, she was part of my first grade classroom since 1994, I just can’t bear it. Hugs and deepest thanks to Dr. Penny Patterson for sharing her with us.”

“At the same time I cry, I also feel such gratitude for following and loving this dear being for so long. Thank you to those who diligently cared for her through the years.”

I don’t know about you, but I remember being taught about Koko in 2nd grade and really being amazed by such a smart gorilla.

The press release concluded with:

“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. ”

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