Koko the gorilla celebrated her 44th birthday this year by becoming the adopted mother of two kittens, according to Daily Mail. In a video post shared recently on Koko and the Gorilla Foundation’s Official Facebook page, the lovable gorilla is seen digging into a box full of kittens and immediately becoming attached to two in the litter.
Watch it here.
Koko’s actual birthday was July 4. The western lowland gorilla, who was born at the San Francisco zoo in 1971, became an endearing representation of the communication capabilities primates have when her trainer Francine “Penny” Patterson revealed Koko’s ability to utilize sign language. It was Patterson who introduced Koko to this special pair of kittens for her birthday.
Koko’s communication abilities made her an instant celebrity as the world became fascinated with her personality and heavily interested in Patterson’s research studies. In 2001, the gorilla had an infamous meeting with comedy and acting legend Robin Williams. Williams, who, according to the Today show, was an ambassador for Great Ape conservation, called the experience of meeting Koko “mind altering.”
“We shared something extraordinary: Laughter. Koko understands spoken English and uses over 1,000 signs to share her feelings and thoughts about daily events, life, love, even death. It was awesome and unforgettable,” Williams went on to say.
Last year, Patterson came under public scrutiny for sharing the news of Robin Williams’ death with Koko, who appeared to grieve the loss of her human friend. The New York Times, among other news sources, questioned whether causing the gorilla emotional pain was ethical or necessary, but for Patterson, it appeared to be another way of making Koko seem more relatable to the human experience.
Koko’s ability to express herself has served her well, but it has also created some issues for Patterson. In 2005, BBC News reported that Patterson was being sued by two former female employees for sexual discrimination and wrongful termination after they refused to show their nipples upon the gorilla’s request to see them. Patterson’s Gorilla Foundation denied the claims but reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs.
Despite this blemish on Koko’s public record, the gorilla has mostly been remembered for heart touching moments captured on film by Patterson, much like the recent kitten adoption. Koko clearly loves to nurture and be nurtured. And this isn’t the gorilla’s first venture into adoptive motherhood.
In 1983, the communicative Koko began to ask for a cat. After attempts to soothe the gorilla with a stuffed animal failed, Koko was finally given a kitten for her 13th birthday. Sadly, just months later, the kitten that Koko had affectionately named “All Ball” was struck by a car. The video of the distraught gorilla shedding the tears of a grieving mother went viral.
In 1985, Koko adopted two kittens whom she named “Smokey” and “Lipstick.” When people questioned Koko’s Facebook page what would happen to her most recent kitten adoptions after they grew into cats, the page responded, “Koko had Smokey for 18 years until she passed away. They are members of her family.”
At 44-years-old, Koko has outlived the average lifespan of a gorilla, which tends to be 35 to 40 years of age, making it all the more likely that this pair of kittens may be her last. To follow the life and times of this extraordinary gorilla, check out Koko’s official Twitter account here or her official Facebook account here or visit www.koko.org.
[Koko cover image courtesy of Koko and The Gorilla Foundation Official Facebook.]