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The moving story of Koko, the gorilla who amazed the world with her unmatched intelligence

Not everyone knows the story of Koko, the smartest gorilla in the world. This cute animal was born in a San Francisco zoo in 1971. Psychologist Francine “Penny” Patterson decided to adopt her for a study to be carried out at Stanford University, in the United States.

The initial objective was to do a linguistic experiment. The psychologist would try to teach him the language american signs for deaf and dumb. If he succeeded, he could communicate with her and learn firsthand how a primate thought.

“First it was necessary to civilize man in his relationship with man. Now it is necessary to civilize man in his relationship with nature and animals.”

-Victor Hugo-

After 43 years of working with Koko, the only thing that can be concluded is that she has not stopped surprising those who know her. Her progress has been impressive. Not only did he learn sign language perfectly, he has also given tender messages to the world and has shown that there is much more to it than just a few learning skills.

Koko’s training

This story has generated controversy since its beginning. At first it was doubted that he would be able to learn sign language. It was assumed that he would eventually manage to repeat the gestures that his trainer made to him, but without understanding their meaning.

Dr. Patterson believed otherwise. Therefore, she patiently instructed her. The first sign that Koko did understand what he was saying was the fact that he created new words. An example of this is the word ring. The instructor had taught her the word “bracelet” and the word “finger,” but not the word “ring.” But one day Koko combined the sign for bracelet and finger, to refer to a ring that his instructor was wearing.

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Today, Dr. Patterson says that Koko uses a language of a thousand signs total. It also understands 2,000 English words. Additionally, there are videos in which the gorilla appears emitting onomatopoeia, that is, sounds deliberately produced to communicate something. Some believe she might end up saying a few words.

The beautiful story of Koko and Bolita

Dr. Patterson used to read stories to Koko. The gorilla’s favorites were “Puss in Boots” and a story about three kittens. Almost every day she asked her instructor to read those stories to her over and over again. One day, he surprisingly told Dr. Patterson that he wanted to have a cat..

By coincidence, three cats were left abandoned near the farm where Koko lived. One of them was a female that had no tail and Koko adopted her. In sign language he baptized her “Bolita”. Since then, he became an inseparable friend to her. He took care of her carefully, they played together and she was always aware of what she was doing.

After 15 years of friendship, Bolita was hit by a car and died. Patterson told the bouncer that he would never see her friend again. Koko then said she felt sad. There is a video in which he appears to sob when he is alone. This fact called into question what was thought about animals like Koko: she was aware of what death is.

Investigator Maureen Sheehan questioned Koko about it. In sign language, he responded that gorillas die “because of problems” or “of old age.”. He also indicated that after they die they go to “a comfortable place.” And when asked if gorillas are happy or sad after they die, Koko answered neither one nor the other. They just sleep.

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Koko’s inner world

An event that attracted a lot of attention and that is documented on video was Koko’s relationship with the actor and director Robin Williams. After Bolita’s death, Koko was sad for a long time. She smiled again when Williams visited her and made some jokes. He liked the actor very much. When her death was announced to him, Koko expressed deep sadness.

Another amazing episode occurs when an expert explains to Koko what climate change is. She looks amazed and very interested in the matter. Afterwards, she sends a message to human beings, through signs. It asks us to take care of the planet. Let’s not be stupid. And alert: “Nature observes.” This event is also recorded on video.

The experiment with Koko would demonstrate not only that her species is endowed with great intelligence, but also that it has a very rich emotional world. And also that they are capable of making rational and moral judgments. This case confirms what many of us have felt for a long time: animals and humans make up a brotherhood.in which there are more similarities than differences.

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