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RIP Koko the Sign Language Gorilla

SourceKoko, the gorilla who mastered sign language and showed the world what great apes can do, has died.
She died Tuesday in her sleep at age 46, The Gorilla Foundation said 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. She was said to have understood some 2,000 words of spoken English. …

The foundation says she has taught the world a profound amount about the emotional capacity and cognitive abilities of gorillas.

Koko appeared in several documentaries and twice on the cover of National Geographic. The first cover featured a photo she’d taken of herself in a mirror, the foundation said.

She was widely promoted through appearances and the release of a picture book about her and a kitten that lived with her.

She has also been exhibited as a painter.

I was as inconsolable as the next guy when sweet, noble Harambe went all too soon to that great banana grove in the sky. But when it comes to world famous gorillas, even at the depths of our Dicks Out for Harambe despair, I was on Team Koko all the way.

No disrespect to any other large, ground-dwelling, herbivorous apes, but Koko was a cut above. Linguist. Cover girl. Book author. Painter. She was a real life Caesar from Planet of the Apes. Without all that messy training -fellow-apes-to-rise-up-against-their-human-oppressors-and-take-over-the-world stuff. And for that, I’m grateful because I wouldn’t last a day as an ape’s manservant.

I remember watching a show about Koko where they said one thing she did that broke researchers’ brains was she went beyond just mimicking the words she was taught to actually forming her own compound words. Like they let her try a radish – which she hated like any normal primate would because they’re gross – and she signed “cry hurt food.” I’ve never had one of those bitter little wooden ping pong balls served to me without thinking the exact same thing. Only I could never put it as eloquently as she did. Not many could. I’d say at most half my friends have a 2,000-word vocabulary, and since they’re mostly Boston Irish, 10 percent of those words are just variations of “fuck.”

And Koko used her sophisticated language to make friends with celebrities. To the point her trainer said she cried when Robin Williams died. Here’s the big, hairy, universally beloved creature in 2001, interacting with Koko:

And according to people who knew him, Robin Williams was so smitten with Koko he only stole three of her jokes to use in his act (Note: inside joke comics will get). Then there was the time she jammed with Flea:

Smart. Sophisticated. A gorilla of letters. Artist. Musician. Boldly going where no ape had gone before. Goodnight, Koko, my sweet princess. Today, all our dicks are out for you.