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Koko, The Gorilla That Knew Sign Language, Dies At 46

Koko, the gorilla that gained fame in the ’70s and ’80s for learning sign language, has died in a California gorilla preserve at 46.

Koko, the gorilla that gained fame in the ’70s and ’80s for learning sign language, has died at 46.

The Gorilla Foundation announced this morning, June 21, that she died in a California gorilla preserve. She would have turned 47 on July 4, reports NPR.

Koko learned over 1,000 signs in American Sign Language from her caretaker and was able to communicate with her handlers. She once famously expressed joy upon receiving a pet kitten. She later showed sadness when she learned her cat had been hit by a car and killed.

In 1978, the gorilla became National Geographic’s cover girl with a mirror selfie. She met many celebrities, as well. Notably, she and Robin Williams became fast friends in 2001. Koko played with his glasses, showed him around, and got him to tickle her. See the video below.


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She further impressed scientists in 2012 when she learned how to play the recorder. Her talent proved that primates can learn to control their breathing.

Koko captivated the world with her intelligence and personality. She re-defined the lines between human and animal interaction. The Gorilla Foundation said in its statement:

“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.”

Rest in peace, Koko.

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