Who Is Koko The Gorilla & Is She Really That Smart?
August 27, 2019
Ever wondered what it would be like to talk
to animals? What would they say? Well Koko the Gorilla might be able to tell us. Hey guys julia here for DNews Making the rounds on the internet lately has
been a viral video of a gorilla with a message. Koko the gorilla signs saying she loves man
and loves nature but “man is stupid” she says to “fix nature”. While heartfelt,
it seems… a little scripted. I mean, her teacher even admitted to giving her a script. But who is this Koko, anyway? Koko is probably
the world’s most famous gorilla. She’s a western lowland gorilla who rose to fame
in the 1980s with her amazing ability to speak using American sign language…and for her
love of kittens. Since then she’s become a celebrity and icon for gorilla conservation. She was born at the San Francisco Zoo on July
4th, 1971. She’s been working with teacher Dr. Penny Patterson, then a doctoral student
in developmental psychology at Stanford university, since she was just a year old. Within two
weeks of working together Koko had learned the signs for eat and drink. Since then Koko has spent over 30 years living
in the hills near Santa Cruz as part of the Gorilla Foundation, started by Dr. Patterson.
She now uses over 1100 signs and even combines them to make up her own words. For example,
she signed “finger bracelet” to describe a ring. But, back to the viral video. In spite of
what she’s signing, Koko probably doesn’t understand climate change. Frans de Waal,
director of Emory University’s Living Links primate research center, told the Huffington
Post that “Koko’s human-coached message goes well beyond anything that a gorilla understands
or cares about.” While she may not know much about climate
change, Koko does know a lot about language.Gestures are something gorillas do naturally, according
to one study published in the journal Animal Cognition. And the researchers note that the
way apes use this kind of “language” reflects some understanding of the audience. For example, if an ape makes a series of gestures
and its “audience,” (other apes), understand it, that ape will continue to make the same
gestures. If the other ape conveys confusion, the first ape will try other gestures. This
suggests that apes might have some sort of theory of mind, or the understanding that
others might have different intentions, desires, or thoughts. It sounds simple, but only a
few animals on this planet can do it. So maybe gorillas li Koko have some sense
of what’s going on in other’s minds. But surprisingly most apes fail another test of
animal cognition, the mirror test. This tests how self-aware animals are by seeing whether
they recognize themselves in a mirror. Gorillas, while supposedly highly intelligent, fail
the mirror test. Now, this might not be due to lack of intelligence – eye contact in the
gorilla world is seen as an act of aggression. Either way, Koko, who has been raised mostly
with her teacher and around humans who make eye contact, passes the mirror test…she
even uses a mirror as a tool to groom herself. She even seems to experience grief and memory.
After the loss of her beloved kitten “All Ball”, she signed the words “bad, sad,
bad” and “frown, cry, frown”. It’s a loss she still refers to decades later.
She made headlines yet again when she heard of the passing of Robin Williams, who she
once met. According to a spokeswoman for the Gorilla foundation, “Koko became very somber,
with her head bowed and her lip quivering.” She signed “woman” and “crying.” While
she may or may not have remembered meeting him, it seems she at least was picking up
on her teacher’s sadness. So, in the end, that viral video might be
a little staged…but come on, what viral video these days isn’t? Koko has been a
great icon for animal conservation. And she’s permanently changed the way we understand
animal intelligence. Her abilities have opened the door to true cross-species communication.
That’s something you can’t fake. CTA video Animal emotions probably aren’t news to
you, especially if you have man’s best friend curled up on your lap as your watch this video.
Dog owners have been saying it for years: “Dogs are really just four-legged, furry humans.”
And now science backs it up! To find out more, check out this episode right here. If you could communicate to an animal, which
would it be?