koko gorilla dies

Koko, the beloved gorilla who mastered sign language and tenderly cared for kittens, has passed away at the age of 46.

Koko died peacefully in her sleep Tuesday, according to a statement from The Gorilla Foundation. “Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” the statement said. “She was beloved and will be deeply missed.”

Koko, a western lowland gorilla, was born on July 4, 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo. Her full name, Hanabi-ko, is Japanese for “Fireworks Child.” Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson began working with Koko in 1972, famously teaching her sign language. In 1974, Dr. Patterson and Dr. Ronald Cohn moved Koko to Stanford, where they established The Gorilla Foundation. Koko finally settled in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1979, and her empathy and intelligence touched the hearts of people around the world:

She liked to read and be read to, a blog post by The Gorilla Foundation said. She purred at parts of books she particularly enjoyed.

She was very maternal toward kittens, and has had several throughout her lifetime. Her “tenderness” showed people how loving a gorilla can be, the foundation said.

Koko made famous friends like Fred Rogers, who appeared on TV as Mr. Rogers, and Robin Williams. She used her sign language skills to communicate with them.

She was said to have understood some 2,000 words of spoken English, and could usually keep up with conversations.

Years ago, Robin Williams had the great honor of meeting her and the two became fast friends. Watch below:

Koko had a remarkable level of emotional intelligence. When Robin Williams died in 2014, Koko mourned as a human would, and signed “cry woman” to her handler.

Koko’s legacy will live on for generations to come. The Gorilla Foundation will continue its work on conservation and preservation of gorillas and plans to introduce a sign language application featuring Koko.

We are just thankful that she lived such a beautiful and impactful life and now she will be able to reunite with her friends Robin Williams and Mr. Rogers.

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