The gorilla who was one of us

Koko the gorilla could do some amazing things. But in her lifetime, her notable achievement was making humans stop to consider whether we do right by our evolutionary pals.

Koko could talk.

The Gorilla Foundation has announced that Koko is dead at the age of 46.

“She actually wasn’t told that he passed away,” her human, Francine Patterson, said when Robin Williams, who was a friend, died. “I was with her and we started getting phone calls when the news broke. She was right next to me and could hear the conversation and knew that something was wrong. She asked me to tell her what it was. So I did. It was upsetting to everybody.”

“She had watched him in movies before, and his visit was not too long after [her gorilla playmate] Michael’s passing. She hadn’t smiled, and she had been very, very sad—not talking much, not eating much. And, when [Robin Williams] came she knew he was a funny man, and she started to come out of that. She had her first smile with him, her first laugh, and her first invitation to play a game with someone. He helped her healing,” Patterson said.

“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.

Koko knew more than a thousand words. One of the first ones she learned was “queen,” Patterson told The Atlantic in a 2015 story.

“It was a sign we almost never used!” she said. “Koko understands that she’s special because of all the attention she’s had from professors, and caregivers, and the media.”

“I thought of all the radio and optical telescopes of the world perpetually aimed at the sky—scanning the heavens for the faintest glimmer of intelligent life,” Roc Morin, the author of The Atlantic article, wrote. “All this, while we are still so far from truly understanding the intelligent life here at home.”