Today is a sad day in the world of animal conservation. Koko the gorilla, who was perhaps best known for her sign language capabilities and teaching humans about the minds of gorillas, has died at the age of 46. She passed away in her sleep on Wednesday morning, June 20th, at the foundation’s preserve in California’s Sana Cruz mountains.
“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy. She was beloved and will be deeply missed,” the foundation wrote in a statement. “Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world.”
The Gorilla Foundation also revealed that it will continue to honor her legacy by working on wildlife conservation in Africa, the great ape sanctuary in Maui, and a sign language app that will help children and gorillas.
Koko, whose birth name is Hanabi-ko (which mean “fireworks child” in Japanese), was born on July 4, 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo. When she was about one years old, she began learning sign language from Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson, and she eventually understood more than 1,000 signs. It’s also been said that she knew more than 2,000 English words by the end of her life.
The famous gorilla met dozens of celebrities, including Robin Williams and Leonardo DiCaprio. Over the years, her amazing ability to communicate captivated and inspired millions.
She met the late Robin Williams in 2001.
She met William Shatner, too.
But her favorite celebrity of all? Perhaps Mr. Rogers.
Red Hot Chilli Peppers bassist Flea also memorably met Koko (and she even strummed on his guitar).
Koko loved playing with dolls.
But nothing compared to Koko’s love for cats. She even cried when her pet cat died:
As a gift to mark her 44th birthday, Koko was given a box of kittens and allowed to choose a new cat.
Above all else, she’ll be remembered for her kindness — and yes — her humanity.
Rest in peace, Koko.