MISSION: To bring interspecies communication to the public, in order to save gorillas from extinction, and inspire our children to create a sustainable future for
all great apes.
The Gorilla Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the preservation, protection and well-being of gorillas through interspecies communication research and education. The foundation was established in 1976 and is best known for its groundbreaking work with two western lowland gorillas, Koko and Michael, who learned to use a variant of American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with caregivers and others in their environment.
This research, known collectively as Project Koko, has become the longest-running interspecies communication study in history, and the only one involving gorillas. The results are published in numerous research papers, books and videos that can be found in the Gorilla Foundation's Bibliography.
During the past few decades, gorillas as a species have become critically endangered in Africa, and the Gorilla Foundation has correspondingly adjusted its focus to apply our interspecies communication research to raise awareness about the need for gorilla conservation and optimal captive care — as relfected in the following Top Initiatives.
Help Koko establish an expanded family, via adoption, so that she can raise a gorilla baby, and transmit both her language, and her influence as an ambassador for her species — creating a self-perpetuating process to ensure there is always a native spokesperson for gorillas and other endangered great apes, to sustain interspecies empathy.. KokoQuest includes the continuous updating and refining of our gorilla care practices, utilizing two-way communication as a tool, so that we can better manage, monitor and learn from Koko's current and expanded gorilla family.
Build upon 4 decades of interspecies communication research, by analyzing the vast amount of multimedia data, and designing new experiments to learn even more about the cognitive and emotional lives of gorillas — and humans. Find new ways to integrate this research with gorilla care, to optimize captive care management via two-way communication.
ZEST is an acronymn for Zoo Educational and Signing Technology. KokoZEST is a multimedia database that can be used to educate humans and gorillas so that we can better communicate with our fellow great ape species. The prototype database is being used in-house and with selected volunteers and colleagues. We are seeking a corporate partner to scale and leverage KokoZEST into a web- (or cloud-) based product that allows millions to learn about what we do, and collaborate in real-time.
Archive decades of multimedia data from Project Koko, while it is still accessible, and enable all of the above aprojects to leverage the internet for sustainable long-term progress. This project includes digitizing (and thus protecting) several decades of videos, photos, art and handwritten text data (pre-2000) as well as cataloging all of our data in a conveniently structured and searchable database. One of the benefits of KokoArc is that it will allow us to look back in time and analyze (analog) data that is currently too volatile to be accessed.
Expand tthe modest, but meaningful, successes we have had in African Countries to educate and engender empathy about gorilla conservation — and help convert poachers to protectors. For example, we have recently been invited to contribute to a Cameroon-wide conservation curriculum, based on the success of a prototype curriculum that centers around the book Koko's Kitten (soon to be augmented by the book Michael's Dream). A second dimension of KokoAfrica is to support selected gorilla sanctuaries, and develop an "exchange program" in which bushmeat orphans (and their caregivers) can benefit from two-way communication too.
Develop the first tropical gorilla sanctuary outside Africa. This project, which was initiated in 1990 by a gift of 70 acres of leased land on Maui, is currently "on hold" until the successful completion of KokoQuest. Once we have expanded Koko's family, and developed a plan for supporting additional gorillas on Maui (where potentially hundreds of acres are available), KokoMaui can again become an active project. Gorilla sanctuaries outside of Africa are desperately needed — especially in the case that we are not able to save them in their homelands (a highly likely scenario, if you simply extrapolate the gorilla population numbers in Africa).
Michael was a male gorilla who grew up with Koko, and who passed away in the year 2000, at the age of 27. He was a gifted signer, artist, music lover and all-around extraordinary silverback gorilla, and he continues to be an inspiration to all of us to this day (for an introduction, see the video clip about Michael in KokoFlix, in which he describes his memory of his mother being killed by poachers in Africa). In this project, the Gorilla Foundation is working with a team of neuroscientists who are studying "Michael's brain." Togethe, we hope to understand why Michael's brain exhibits higher concentrations of a certain type of neuron that is associated with higher social awareness. The levels (i.e., density) of these neurons found in Michael's brain are higher than any other great ape specimen studied, and much closer to those found in humans. Was Michael's brain development affected by learning our sign language, by being encouraged to paint, by his traumatic first-hand experience with bushmeat, or he is just an anomaly?
The work of the Gorilla Foundation is supported primarily by donations from individuals, with some support from foundations, corporations, and educational product sales. The Foundation receives no support from government sources at this time.
||Who is Koko?
Penny Patterson, a young graduate student in psychology at Stanford,
first saw a tiny, undernourished baby gorilla named Hanabi-Ko
at the San Francisco Zoo, she had little inkling that the sickly
ape would become her constant companion - and the subject of
the longest continuous experiment ever undertaken to teach language
to another species. But within a year, Project Koko was underway,
and in two weeks the gorilla was using correct signed gestures
for food, drink, and more. Today, decades later,
Koko - the world's most renowned gorilla - is drawing on a vocabulary
of more than 1,000 words.
||Who is Penny?
Penny Patterson received a degree in Psychology at the University
of Illinois and her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at Stanford.
She is now President and Research Director of The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org,
a member of the Board of Consultants at the Center for Cross
Cultural Communication in Washington, D.C., and is the Editor-in-Chief
of Gorilla, the journal of The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org.
Note: Psychology runs in the Patterson family: Penny's father,
Dr. C.H. Patterson, who has been a key supporter and source
of inspiration for Penny and TGF, is also a world-renowned professor
and author in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy - see
his insightful website.
||Who is Ron?
Dr. Ron Cohn is the Co-Founder, Vice President
and principal photo-video documentatarian for Project Koko.
He is responsible for most of the visual content on the site!