Famous Animals: Koko - The Talking Gorilla

“Project Koko” began in July of 1972, as little Koko the gorilla celebrated her first birthday. Psychology student Penny Patterson trained Koko in sign language and taught her far over 1,000 words over many years.

Koko Knew More Than 1,000 Words!

At three years old, she already knew a lot of words but she was still very childish so her sentences were often jibberish. But over time, Koko grew up and started to string together between three and six words to create sentences.

Gorilla Gorilla (not Koko) - Photo: paula french/Shutterstock

Koko was Inventive: She Made up New Words

She’s even invented a few words herself. She used the phrase “eye hat” for “mask”, “finger bracelet” for “ring” and “elephant baby” for “Pinocchio” (presumably because of the long nose). Her IQ is said to have been between 75 and 90. 100 is “normal” for humans.

What did Koko talk about?

Mainly, conversations with Koko were about one thing: tasty food! She liked nuts, apples, corn and tofu best. But Koko could also put tragic events into words.

Koko’s Pet and the Tragedy

In 1984, Koko asked her trainer for a pet cat. This made her one of the few animals that has had its own pet! She lovingly looked after her furry little friend as if it was her own baby. In the same year, the little Manx cat “All Ball” escaped and was hit by a car. When Penny told Koko, she used the signs for “sad” and “cry” for weeks.

Koko lived in Woodside (California, USA) at the “Gorilla Foundation. On June 19, 2018, she died at the age of forty-six.

By the way: the name Koko is short for Hanabi-Ko, which means “firework child”. She was born on the 4th of July, which is when American Independence Day is celebrated with fireworks.