“Talking” gorilla, Koko, who captured world headlines and the hearts of millions when she learned sign language, has died. She was 46.
The Gorilla Foundation announced Koko’s death, saying that she will be “deeply missed.”
“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy,” the foundation wrote in a statement.
The western lowland gorilla was born at the San Francisco Zoo in 1971 and began to learn sign language early in life. Researchers moved her to Stanford in 1974 and established The Gorilla Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to preserve and protect gorillas, CNN reports.
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.
When Koko was told of Williams’ death, photos of the apparently distressed gorilla went viral, according to Time magazine.
The Gorilla Foundation said it would honour Koko’s legacy and advance its mission with conservation efforts in Africa, an ape sanctuary on Maui, and a sign language application featuring Koko that’s intended to benefit gorillas and children.
“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 foundation said.