Koko.Org / The Gorilla Foundation

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TOP Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

  1. KOKO BABY: Are Koko and Ndume ever going to have a baby? What are the prospects for offspring? ...

  2. KOKO VISITS:  Is it possible to visit Koko and Ndume at The Gorilla Foundation?

  3. LONGEVITY: How old is Koko, and how long do gorillas typically live?

  4. MAUI APE PRESERVE: What is the Maui Ape Preserve, and why does Koko want to move there?

  5. MAUI STATUS: What's happening with the Maui Ape Preserve? (I don't see any recent progress on your website.)

  6. MISSION: What is the Gorilla Foundation and what is its mission?

  7. PUBLICATIONS: NewsLetters and/or Journals to members? I'm not receiving them!

  8. SPENDING: As a donor, I'd like to know more about where my money is going?

  9. SUPPORT: How can people help Koko, Ndume and the Gorilla Foundation?

  10. TEMPERMENT of Gorillas: Are gorillas always calm? do they ever get angry? how?

C1. CONTACT / MEMBERSHIP: Who should I contact about membership, support or product questions?

C2. CONTACT / INFO / EDU: Who should I contact about general or educational questions?

C3. CONTACT / KOKO: Does Koko have an email address?

Answers to TOP FAQs . . .

Q1: KOKO's BABY: What is happening between Koko and Ndume and the prospects for offspring — a baby? Why hasn't Koko had a baby yet? What are you doing to help her have a baby? Will Koko teach her offspring to sign? If she doesn't have a baby, will the interspecies communication project end with Koko?

Thank you for your interest in Koko and her wish for a baby.  Many people ask us about the various ways Koko could liver her dream of being a mother and what we've tried to make it come true. People are typically concerned about the following 7 issues . . .

  1. Is Adoption an option?
  2. What about Artificial Insemination?
  3. What about Natural Childbirth?
  4. When will Koko be too old to have a baby?
  5. How can you increase the odds?
  6. Will Koko teach her baby to sign?
  7. What if she doesn't have a baby, or has one and doesn't teach it to sign?

We would be THRILLED if we could adopt a baby for Koko and fulfill her desire to raise a child. Unfortunately, but understandably, no zoo wants to part with a gorilla baby born to their troop. Since gorillas are endangered, importing gorillas from other countries is difficult and so far our loan requests have not been approved by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  

Artificial Insemination
Artificial insemination or in vitro techniques sound like the perfect solution until you look at the poor success rates zoos have had and the risks of anesthetizing gorillas.  However, we are still hopeful about Ndume.
He has been a wonderful father (at the Cincinnati Zoo),is a grandfather, and can potentially father more children with Koko.

Natural Childbirth
Koko is aware of what it takes to make a baby.  She has several videos of gorilla mating behavior and copulation. There are several reasons we think she has rarely approached Ndume in "that way."  In gorilla social groups, there is one male and several females so that the females (who are less powerful than the males) always have backup support and baby sitters.

Our situation here for a long time was 2 males and 1 female which is an unnatural social situation for gorillas.  We have tried to obtain another female on loan to join our family, but our requests have not been accepted or approved by the AZA (which typically restricts exchanges to other zoos). 

When will Koko be too old to have a baby?
Gorillas can technically have babies into their early forties, and Koko is now in her mid-thirties, so we still have some time.

Increasing the Odds
Koko has only occasionally allowed Ndume close, sustained contact. She may be self conscious (gorillas embarrass easily) and privacy is also an issue.  We are working toward remedying this.  Now, thanks to the support of our members, we have upgraded our facilities and each of the day rooms has two points of access to the large yard, giving Koko exit routes. We are also able to allow Koko and Ndume access to each other in the evening and overnight. This way they have some uninterrupted private time and know they aren't being watched.

Also, the move to Maui may prove successful for conception, as a change of venue often stimulates pairs that have been housed together for years.  The new facilities will allow Koko and Ndume even more space and privacy day and night and we hope the lush tropical surroundings will stir their natural instincts.

Please know that everything we do here is geared toward the gorillas' well being.  Thank you for your concern.

IWill Koko teach her offspring to sign?
We think so, based on all the experiences we've had with Koko where she has played withteaching sign language to her ape dolls through molding, and modeled sign language (repeating signs) to Ndume and caregivers who are not as proficient as she is with certain signs.

If Koko doesn't have a baby, will the interspecies communication project end with Koko?

We are working to teach others willing to learn everything we've learned about interspecies communication. In particular, we have found that there are significant health and enrichment benefits to teaching captive great apes at least some basic signs — thus enabling accurate two-way communication. This process is embodied in our new ZEST database (Zoo Enrichment Signing Tutorial), which we plan to share with zoos and great ape sanctuaries. Thus, there may always be at least a few non-human great apes in the world who can speak to us in our own language, and thus promote their own welfare and conservation!

Koko Baby

Q2: KOKO VISITS:  Is it possible to visit Koko and Ndume at The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org?

While we would love to allow our supporters to meet each of our gorillas, the Gorilla Foundation's gorilla facilities are not open to the general public. We try to provide as much of a sanctuary for gorillas Koko and Ndume as possible, as visits by strangers can be extremely stressful, especially to Ndume (who is the male silverback "protector."). Therefore, we limit visits to staff members, board members and occasionally a celebrity or dignitary who wants to help gorillas through the power of their public persona.

The best alternative we can offer is our growing video collection, starting with award-winning PBS/NATURE DVD, "A Conversation with Koko", and progressing to our website, Koko.org, where we will be launching an ongoing series of video clips featuring Koko and interspecies communication, called KokoFlix. We are also developing multimedia educational materials that will soon be available on koko.org, and will include a "learn to sign with Koko" module. Visiting the gorillas at your local zoo is also a good idea, but now that you know more about how intelligent and emotional caring gorillas are — through Koko, Michael and Ndume — please remember to treat them with the respect they deserve. Someday soon, you may be able to communicate with selected zoo gorillas in sign language, or possibly to understand their natural gestural language.

We think that the future of eco-tourism will probably exploit the latest high-definition video/virtual technology to "meet gorillas" face-to-face without physically disturbing their natural ecosystem or privacy. It's the least we can do for our fellow sentient beings.


Q3: LONGEVITY: How long do gorillas live?

A3: In captivity, gorillas typically live into their 40's and 50's, with females outliving males (who tend to lead more stressful lives, as their fundamental job of protecting their families is difficult to achieve in captivity). Gorillas in the wild tend not to live as long as gorillas in captivity; largely due to the threats (or apparent threats) of human hunting and infringment of their habitats.


Q4: MAUI APE PRESERVE: What is the Maui Ape Preserve?

A4: The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org is establishing a unique preserve for endangered gorillas on west Maui, Hawaii, where the tropical climate will be much more suitable for the gorillas than our present location in Northern California. We are developing a large, secluded sanctuary on 70 acres and the gorilla families will spend their days socializing, napping in the sun, playing, foraging through edible vegetation, communicating, reproducing and raising their children.

Maui is more like a gorilla's natural habitat than our present location in Northern California. So Koko will enjoy a better climate and with the 70 acres made available by Maui Land and Pineapple, she will have more space to be a gorilla, to play, and nap and forage for food in a more private, less noisy more gorilla friendly environment.

And hopefully, the Maui Ape Preserve will be a more conducive environment for her to have a baby with Ndume!!



Q5: MAUI STATUS: What's happening with the Maui Ape Preserve? I have gone to your website a number of times now and have found it disappointing that there is only one picture of the proposed Maui Ape Preserve and that it doesn't appear to have changed in years. What is the progress? What is your time line?

A5: During the economic downturn in Silicon Valley (where we are located) our fundraising was impacted adversely. But there has since been an upturn and we are currently in the process of redoing designs for some of the facilities to take advantage of the developments in "green" building techniques that have come along in the recent past. We now need to get these plans approved by the powers that be on Maui. As soon as that happens (impossible to predict), we expect we can complete construction of the essential structures within a year. All the hardest work has been done - grading, importing utilities to our remote site, creating a reservoir and pouring concrete foundations.

maui status

Q6: MISSION: What is the Gorilla Foundation and its mission?

A6: Established in 1976, The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org promotes the protection, preservation and propagation of gorillas In addition to providing a home for Koko and Ndume.The Gorilla Foundation continues the longest on-going continuous interspecies project that Drs. Penny Patterson and Ronald Cohn began with Koko in July 1972.

Our mission, in brief, is "conservation through communication."

We gather data on gorilla behavior and their cognitive abilities daily and document this with notes, photos and video our daily interactions and conversations with Koko. And we share what we have learned from Koko with the public, zoos, sanctuaries and educational institutions, through our membership mailings, our member journal Gorilla,, our member newsletter Gorilla Talk, our member eNewsLetter KokoMail, our films and our web site for the purpose of raising awareness about gorillas, their amazing abilities and the need to protect them.

Through our Wildlife Protector's Fund (WPF) we are sharing educational materials about Koko and gorillas with children and key decision makers in Africa in an effort to stem the growing crises of the illegal bushmeat trade. We have found that while Koko is not unique, her unique story and position of ambassadorship has the power to convert poachers to protectors, and to transform apathetic students to passionate global citizens..

Q7: PUBLICATIONS: For many years you sent journals and newsletters updating us on Koko's progress, conversations with Michael, Koko and finally Ndume. I haven't received these in years. I understand if the reason is financial, but are you still publishing and mailing newsletters for members?

A7: We apologize if you, as a long-time Gorilla Foundation member, have accidentally dropped off of our mailing list, and we thank you for notifying us (via service@koko.org), so that we can reinstate you immediately. We actually now have two types of publications. 1) our Newsletter, Gorilla Talk, which varies between 4 to 6 pages in length and is designed to update members on current activities at the Foundation and the latest news about Koko and Ndume; and 2) our Journal, Gorilla, which has a full-color magazine format and tends to cover more topics in-depth, including the recounting of conversations with the gorillas such as you allude to, as well as other research, education and conservation topics and progress. The NewsLetter was introduced around 2003 to supplement our annual Journal. We have had 2 Newsletters per year published since then, and are planning to publish one full-color Gorilla Journal each year, to be mailed by late summer.


Q8: SPENDING: As a member/donor, I'd like to know where my money goes. My daughter has been worked with environmental NGOs only to discover that the people running the projects are actually benefiting much more than those who are supposed to be helped. I love the enlightenment that Koko and Michael have given us. I do not want to see this program end, but I am beginning to wonder what is happening. If my money is only going to provide Koko and Ndume food and shelter, I would like to know that. I would never hold back from them. I want to give more, but will not do so until I know what kind of progress is being made.

A8: A significant portion of our funds underwrites salaries for research assistants and caregivers to track the interactions between the gorillas and ensure their welfare. Another area that holds great promise is our educational outreach, which we could not accomplish without the support from our donors. Teaching children (both in the U.S. and Africa) about Koko, sign language and interspecies communication leads a whole new generation into an appreciation for this remarkable species, and promotes conservation not only of gorillas but of our total environment. Koko's impact is extraordinarily powerful and we are developing new outreach programs to make her even more accessible to teachers and students for years to come. There is also an exciting effort to organize our decades worth of research and care data into a modern relational database system that can be shared with other great ape facilities and educational institutions to train the next generation of interspecies communication researchers and conservation scientists, Our latest newsletter and upcoming journal gives details about some of these efforts.


Q9: SUPPORT: How can people help Koko, the Gorilla Foundation and it's mission to save and learn from gorillas?

A9: We hope that people will help Koko by giving her the greatest present of all this holiday season... by helping to raise money for the move to Maui. This can be done in 3 ways during this event: i) by donating money to our project on-line through Helping.org; ii) by buying featured Koko and kitten plush and our kid's book, Koko's Kitten on Shop@AOL Target.com, and iii) by becoming a Gorilla Foundation "E-Member", buying prints of Koko's artwork, Koko plush, Koko Tee shirts and videos/books on our website (koko.org) under KokoMart.

The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Click here for information on the various levels of memberships we offer, along with an online order form.

Are gorillas always as gentle as Koko appears on video, and does she ever get angry or act out? How? She seems more behaved than some children! .

A10: While Koko and other gorillas are generally amazingly sweet-tempered and patient; as with all creatures, human and nonhuman, there are times when they express displeasure.

Koko sometimes does a soft annoyance bark (sounds like uh-uh), if things are not to her liking. This translates to 'please stop what you are doing.' She may also do a banging display when this subtle cue is missed, or when frightened or upset (this only hurts her, however, since she often contacts a hard surface with the backside of her arm). A charging display is characteristic of gorillas, especially males, when they are riled up, but they usually do not make contact, or if they do, they sideswipe; i.e., they are a bluff. Soft play bites are common in youngsters; on rare occasions, adults may give a single disciplinary bite, but these generally do not break the skin. So, on the whole, they are quite peaceable (vegetarian) beings.


QC1: CONTACT / MEMBERSHIP: How do I contact the Gorilla Foundation about membership, donations or products?

AC1: Email service@koko.org. Or call 1-800-ME-GO-APE, or send a letter to The Gorilla Foundation, Box 620530, Woodside, CA 92406.
If allcing from outside the U.S., you can call 1-650-216-6450.

QC2: CONTACT / INFO: How do I contact the Gorilla Foundation with general or educational questions or comments?

: For general questions, email contactus@koko.org. For educational questions and teaching/learning materials, email education@koko.org.

QC3: CONTACT / KOKO: Does Koko have an email address?

: Yes! Kids can email Koko at: koko@koko.org.
But please don't expect Koko to open her laptop and answer personally. First, Koko is not yet a big tech fan. And second, she gets so many emails, that she relies heavily on our staff to screen and answer as many questions as possible for her; consulting her only if it's something new, or particularly endearing that we think she should see. (If and when Koko ever decides to do her own email, we will certainly let everyone know.).

Special FAQs re. Koko-AOL WebCast

Why did Koko and Penny do a Webcast?
Tell us a bit about how you and Koko are able to communicate.
How will the webcast actually work?
What will you and Koko be talking about on the webcast?
What is Koko planning for the holidays?
How does the computer/Internet benefit Koko's ability to communicate?
How do webcasts help Koko's ability to communicate? Or, Why do a webcast on AOL?
Where can I see a copy of the transcript of Koko's Earth Day online chat session?

Why is the Koko doing a Webcast?

Thanks to the wonderful folks at AOL we are able to webcast my interaction with Koko here in her home at The Gorilla Foundation and chat with AOL members to raise awareness about gorillas, our interspecies communication project and to generate funds to develop Koko's new home, a sanctuary on Maui for many more gorillas.

Through this unique online event and by visiting the Koko area on AOL Keyword: Koko), people will learn about our planned Maui Gorilla Preserve and they will have an opportunity to donate directly to The Gorilla Foundation through the online philanthropy portal Helping.org and our website, Koko.org.

Tell us a bit about how you and Koko are able to communicate.

Koko and I communicate with each other through a modified form of American Sign Language (ASL). Koko has demonstrated well over 1,000 such gestures. She also understands over 2,000 words of spoken English, so people can speak to her and she will respond in sign. She also communicates with her normal gorilla vocalizations, of purrs and cries. In our more than 28 years together, Koko has expressed the whole range of emotions associated with humans, like, happiness, sadness, love, grief, embarrassment.

How will the webcast actually work?

People will log onto aol.com and join the Webcast and chat. I will be with Koko in front of a computer and people will be able to see us through live streaming video on the aol.com site. They will send us questions and I will be at the computer where I will sign the question to Koko. She'll sign the answer back to me and AOL will transcribe the chat.

You can get to the chat by going to AOL keyword: AOL Live

What will you and Koko be talking about on the webcast?

We will give webcast participants a glimpse into my daily interactions with Koko, so I'm sure that we will talk about a lot of things that are important to Koko. Like food and her friends and her kitten, and we will be taking questions from the participants so I sure we'll have an interesting and exciting exchange.

We will talk about our plans for the holiday season, what food she will want for her feast, and the presents that she wants and what she'll want to get for her human and gorilla friends.

Likely, we'll talk about Koko's upcoming move to Maui and how the webcast participants can help her reach this goal.

How does the computer/Internet benefit Koko's ability to communicate?

Computers and internet aid our research project a great deal in terms of data gathering, analysis and research but in terms of their use by Koko. Like any concerned parent, we have always looked for tools to aid us in Koko's education and for her mental stimulation and enjoyment.

While at Stanford in the late 1970's, Koko had a computer that would voice a word when she pressed letters on the keyboard, In the 1980's, Apple developed a 70 icon touch screen computer that voiced a word associated with the icon, when Koko pressed the icon.

So the internet really is just the next extension of this use of technology in our project.

How do webcasts help Koko's ability to communicate? Or, Why do a webcast on AOL?

Many may recall our last AOL chat around Earth Day in 1998, which reached a huge audience and we've upgraded the experience this time to include a webcast, so that people and get a chance to see Koko. The AOL chat format and webcast is great because it extends to a mass audience around the world the rare privilege that I have of engaging, interacting and communicating with Koko, the only signing gorilla in the world.

We don't have public visits to The Gorilla Foundation to preserve Koko's privacy.
But with the internet and this AOL chat/webcast we can provide a glimpse into Koko's life and create awareness of her abilities which will hopefully create empathy and motivate action to protect gorillas and their habitat

Koko is an inter-species communications pioneer and true ambassador for her species. As the first gorilla to communicate with a human, it makes sense that Koko is now breaking new ground on the Internet.

She was the first gorilla to participate in an online chat on AOL in April 1998, and now she is using the Internet to communicate to an even larger audience through a webcast that is open to all Internet users on AOL.COM.

At our core, our project is about a connection with another species, sharing knowledge and this facilitated by our ability to communicate with each other and to me this is what the Internet is all about, communicating, and connecting. not just between machines, but connecting people and sharing our knowledge and insights. With this webcast, we are communicating and connecting on a most profound level with each other and with another intelligent being, who we share this planet with we are sharing this new and great technological innovation of our species via our shared gastrula language, our original and oldest method of communication, it really is an extraordinary link, and we hope it inspires people to learn, to communicate, to become aware and to extend our species great abilities and tools to protect gorillas, all animals and our planet.

Where can I see a copy of the transcript of Koko's Earth Day online chat session?

Click here for a complete transcript of Koko's chat session presented by America Online in April 1998.

Help Koko Save her Species