Koko the Gorilla Dead: Beloved Primate Who Mastered Sign Language Dies at 46

Koko the Gorilla
Koko the Gorilla 

She will be remembered. Koko, a beloved gorilla who inspired many, has died at age 46.

Koko, who was known for her unique ability to communicate through sign language, died in her sleep on Tuesday, June 19, at The Gorilla Foundation in Santa Cruz, California.

“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” the foundation said in a statement via Koko.org on Tuesday. “She was beloved and will be deeply missed.”

The western lowland gorilla was born in the San Francisco Zoo on July 4, 1971, and worked closely with psychologist Francine “Penny” Patterson throughout her life. Koko’s mastery of sign language allowed her to connect with other living beings on a deeper level, as witnessed through her adorable bond with kittens and her ability to grieve and feel loss.

Although she only met Robin Williams once in 2011, Koko mourned the late Oscar winner after he died in August 2014 by signing to Patterson, “CRY LIP.” She then “became very somber, with her head bowed and her lip quivering,” Patterson, 71, wrote at the time on Koko.org.

Appearing in several documentaries and on the cover of National Geographic twice, Koko captivated the world with her knowledge of more than 2,000 English words and her love for reading and painting. Koko exhibited another one of her talents on the 1978 National Geographic cover, which featured a photo of her that she had taken in the mirror.

The Gorilla Foundation will honor Koko’s legacy through a sign language app featuring the late primate. The app will benefit gorillas and children.

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