Koko (gorilla)

From Academic Kids

This article is about the gorilla. For other uses of the name Koko, see Koko.

Koko (born July 4, 1971, in San Francisco, California) is the name of a captive, acculturated gorilla trained by Dr. Francine 'Penny' Patterson and other scientists at Stanford University to communicate more than 1,000 signs based on American Sign Language. She has lived most of her life in Woodside, California, but plans for a move to a sanctuary at Maui, Hawaii are nearing attainment.

Missing image


Use of languange

Some scientists assert Koko's use of signs, and her actions consistent with her use of signs, indicate she has mastered the use of language. Other scientists dismiss such conclusions, contending she does not understand the meaning behind what she is doing, but learns to complete the signs simply because the researchers reward her for doing so, representing her actions as a result of operant conditioning. Such debate requires careful consideration of what it means to 'learn' or 'use' a language (see Animal language for further discussion).

Koko's training began at the age of one. Dr. Patterson eventually assessed Koko's vocabulary at over 1,000 signs.

Preeminent non-human linguist

Koko is among the most proficient non-human linguists. Gorillas and bonobos are relatively adept with certain forms of communication, whereas chimpanzees and Orangutans tend toward mastery of manual skills, including brachiation.

Missing image
Koko with one of her kittens.

Michael, a gorilla who lived with Koko for several years, also developed a broad vocabulary of signs, but did not become as proficient in this realm of intellect before passing away. Other well-known signing apes include chimpanzees Nim Chimpsky and Washoe, the bonobo Kanzi, and the Orangutan Chantek.

Koko's cats

Koko is also the only non-human known to keep pets of a different species: she has cared for several cats over the years - see All Ball.

Media darling

Many documentaries have been made on Koko, including Koko - A Talking Gorilla (1977). On April 27th, 1998, Koko held an 'online chat' live on AOL.

In August of 2004, Koko was in the news again due to a toothache. She communicated that she was in pain, and according to her handlers was able to indicate her pain level on a scale of 1 to 10. [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3548246.stm)

See also

External links

  • ApeNet.org (http://www.apenet.org/) - 'ApeNet: a consortium of foundations and individuals who support interconnecting great apes with each other, as well as with humans, through enculturation and technology'
  • GeoCities.com (http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Vines/4451/KokoLiveChat.html) - 'An Internet Chat with Koko the Gorilla' (transcript of AOL chat, April 27, 1998)
  • GorillaFund.org (http://www.gorillafund.org/) - 'Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International' (DFGFI)
  • Koko.org (http://www.koko.org/) - The Gorilla Foundation: Conservation through Communication'
  • SFGate.com (http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/02/18/BAGM9BDI191.DTL) - 'Gorilla Foundation rocked by breast display lawsuit: Former employees say they were told to expose chests', Patricia Yollin, San Francisco Chronicle (February 18, 2005)
  • Stanford.edu (http://med.stanford.edu/about_photo/archive/doctors_koko.html) - When Koko the gorilla needs a checkup, Stanford docs swing into action', Mitzi Baker

Online video

  • PBS.org (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/koko/) - 'A Conversation With Koko', PBS

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