Koko the gorilla was given kittens for a birthday present. The gorilla is known worldwide for her use of sign language. The photos and videos of Koko and the kittens has made her a social media star.
Koko told her trainer, Penny Patteson, that she wanted a cat by using sign language in 1983. Patterson and a team of researchers at The Gorilla Foundation honored the request for a cat, thinking the pet might help the gorilla better prepare for motherhood, MSN reports.
The gorilla was given a stuffed cat as a gift, but she completely ignored the present. When she was handed a gray kitten as a birthday gift in 1984, Koko was ecstatic. Using sign language, the primate reportedly named the cat, All Ball. She carried the male kitten around like a baby constantly.
When All Ball escaped from the gorilla’s cage and was hit by a car just a few months after Koko’s birthday, Penny Patteson had to break the tragic news to the primate. The trainer said the gorilla began crying and spelled “Sleep cat” using her sign language skills, according to a Huffington Post report.
Koko also spelled “sad,” “frown,” “cry,” and “trouble” upon hearing about the death of her beloved companion. The gorilla also used sign language to express sorrow at the loss of her friend, Robin Williams, last year. The comedian had visited Koko in the past and was able to get a visible smile from the gorilla.
Earlier this year, Koko turned 44. On her birthday this year, Patteson allowed the gorilla choose two new kittens from a litter. The photos of Koko’s kittens immediately went viral when posted online late last week.
Koko named her kittens Ms. Gray and Ms. Black. The other kittens in the litter were all adopted by human cat lovers.
“With Koko’s new kitten adoptions, she couldn’t be happier,” the organization wrote in a newsletter. “She is signing more than ever.”
The special relationship between the gorilla and the cat became the topic of a popular children’s book, Koko’s Kitten. The Gorilla Foundation stated that the evolving relationship between the primate and the baby cats might become a multimedia sequel to the first book.
Penny Patteson began teaching Koko a few words in sign language when she was just a 1-year-old gorilla. The trainer taught the primate the words for food, drink, and several others during the early training sessions. She used the molding and modeling techniques when teaching Koko the context of the signs.
An excerpt from the Koko website detailing the American Sign Language (ASL) training sessions follows.
“American Sign Language (ASL) was selected by Dr. Penny Patterson as the primary language to teach Koko because of the success that other researchers had with chimpanzees. It turned out to be a good choice, as Koko [and later Michael] learned it quickly. Within just a few weeks the gorillas were using sign combinations. Much later, observations by other researchers at zoos revealed that gorillas seem to have a natural gestural language of their own, using dozens of gestures consistently to communicate with one another. This may explain why Koko and Michael learned ASL so quickly; it’s built on their intrinsic capabilities.”
Koko reportedly learned sign language at a rate which paralleled the educational process and language acquisition experienced by human children. The gorilla learned the most new vocabulary words and signs between the ages of 2.5 and 4.5 years. Human children reportedly have a spike in the learning process during the same ages.
What do you think about Koko and her kittens?
[Image via Twitter]