Koko, the gorilla who mastered sign language, has died

Koko the gorilla who has passed away.					Sun Media Archive

Koko, the gorilla who mastered sign language, has died.

Originally named Hanabi-ko - Japanese for "fireworks child" - after being born at San Francisco Zoo in 1971, Koko learned a rudimentary sign language through a researcher, Dr Francine Patterson.

The gorilla was 46 and died in her sleep, The Gorilla Foundation said in a statement Wednesday.

Koko appeared on the cover of her first National Geographic in 1978 and featured a picture she had taken of herself in the mirror.

The famous signing gorilla - who met the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist - has died aged 46.

The gorilla, who was said to have an IQ of between 75 and 95, could understand 2,000 words of spoken English.

Some 10 years younger than Koko, Ndume was selected to be her mate but a relationship never developed. Koko has helped increase our understanding of animals' ability to communicate and to feel varied and intense emotions, so her contributions to science and mankind more broadly are invaluable. Her "tenderness" showed people how loving a gorilla can be, the foundation said.

The second issue, in January of 1985, included the story of Koko and her kitten, All Ball. The documentary is a sweet and fascinating look at a creature that not only touched many lives, but bridged a huge gap that will impact scientific methods for years to come. While some scientists questioned the sign language claim, the "talking" lowland gorilla nevertheless became an ambassador for her species, which is threatened by logging and poaching in central Africa. Koko also appeared on an episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

This kind of introduction followed Koko, showing both her cognitive abilities and her personality together, and will no doubt follow after Koko's death.

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