Koko, arguably the world’s most famous gorilla, turned 44 this past summer, and what made the day special was something she’s always wanted: her own babies.
Koko “talks” by sign language, using a vocabulary of more than 1000 words. She was exposed to spoken English very early in her life and now is reported to understand approximately 2000 words, as well.
Sadly, Koko has shown no interest in the mating process. But over the years, she’s exhibited signs of having strong motherly instincts. She often signs the word ‘baby’, carries gorilla dolls in her arms, and even pretends that her dolls can sign by moving their arms and hands. So on her birthday, trainer Francine Patterson decided to introduce her to some other babies – a litter of kittens.
Video of the interaction, just released, shows Koko being very gentle with them when they arrived. At one point, she carefully reaches out to stroke them with her giant hands. She signs a desire for one of them to be placed on her head. Then, obviously delighted, she makes the signs for “cat” and then “baby” and indicates that the kittens are now her adopted children.
Information provided with the video says that Koko and the kittens are now one happy family:
“Not only have Koko’s maternal and play instincts kicked in, but she is signing more to her caregivers and generating new content every day that can be used by The Gorilla Foundation to create empathy for great apes.”
“With Koko’s new kitten adoptions, she couldn’t be happier,” the organization wrote in a newsletter.
Koko has had several cats as pets over the years, including a gray kitten named All Ball. When All Ball got outside of the cage and was hit by a car just six months later, Koko grieved by using the signs for “cry,” “frown,” “sad” and “trouble.”
The gorilla’s relationship with All Ball became the subject of the children’s book, “Koko’s Kitten.” The foundation wrote that her relationship with her new babies could become a sequel.
Koko, who was born at the San Francisco Zoo, has spent most of her life at The Gorilla Foundation in Woodside. She made headlines last year when she mourned the loss of Robin Williams, who had not only visited her but got a smile out of the gorilla at a time when she was sad over the death of her companion.