koko is a gorilla who can “speak” using sign language! teresa and i watched koko: a talking gorilla, a documentary by barbet schroeder about 4-year old koko the gorilla and her communicative relationship with her trainer, penny patterson. koko was born in the san francisco zoo in the 70s and then taken to stanford to be part of an experiment to learn more about human-animal communication and primate capabilities.
the film has a great 70s nostalgic quality, a bit grainy with slightly scratchy sound. the whole thing is quite absurd- koko riding in the passenger seat driving around palo alto; koko preferring a red sweater to a yellow; koko being chastised for being “bad”; koko eating a sandwich; koko using a rudimentary apple computer. it will make you laugh, confused, skeptical, but most of all enthralled by sweet koko and her uncanny ability to speak! she’s still alive….38 years old and can sign 1000 different words and understand even more of spoken english and american sign language. WOW! you go, koko! now does she really get it or is she just hungry??
images via barbet schroeder