Recently I’ve become obsessed with Koko the gorilla. I wish I could say that this was a new fad after becoming involved with All Hands on Deck but to be completely honest, I’ve always been fascinated by this amazing story.
Koko, a female western lowland gorilla, was born on the 4th July 1971 in San Francisco Zoo. After becoming ill early on in life, Koko spent much of her time with her caregiver Penny – a student at Berkeley University who began to teach her ASL (American Sign Language,) as a means to communicate and converse with the humans around her.
At the age of 1, Koko began acquiring a complex language which was later to be slightly altered to GSL (Gorilla sign language – some of Koko’s fingers are too fat for normal signs!) Koko’s language acquisition eventually led to some incredible scientific breakthroughs the gorilla demonstrating the ability to express memories, desires and wants. Koko is now able to communicate effectively with humans and is even bilingual – able to understand over 2,000 words of the English language and with a working vocabulary of over 1,000 signs.
So what can Koko tell us?
Koko’s story is not groundbreaking from a scientific perspective – I find it incredibly motivating and inspiring!
If an animal from a completely different species can learn, utilise and communicate successfully using sign language than what does that say about our wider community and our ability?
If a gorilla can do it, then why can’t we!
Here’s a link to a conversation with KOKO
and here’s a link to learning AUSLAN