Koko's 30th Birthday


Woodside, CA, June 29, 2001. Koko, the famous sign language-using gorilla will celebrate her 30th birthday this Wednesday, July 4th. Born on the 4th of July in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo, the female western lowland gorilla was named Hanabi-Ko, Japanese for "Fireworks Child."

Known world-wide as the only "talking" gorilla, Koko gained notoriety soon after learning her first words of American Sign Language; "food", "drink", and "more" under the tutelage of Drs. Francine "Penny" Patterson and Ronald H. Cohn, in July 1972.

Koko will undoubtedly employ these words in celebrating her milestone birthday in her northern California home at the Gorilla Foundation. Along with her male gorilla companion, Ndume (en-doo-may, which means "male" in Swahili), Koko will enjoy a healthful banquet of gorilla-pleasing delicacies Ð a menu that she helped setÐincluding corn on the cob, cole slaw, nuts, vegetable chips and a tofu burgerÐall washed down with a celebratory beverage, sparkling apple cider, her favorite drink. (Not all that different from the menu of many of our neighbors here in Silicon Valley for the 4th.) Like many middle-aged Americans, Koko is on a diet, so her birthday cake this year will be smaller and lighter, but will still have three candles for her to blow out and make a wish.

Using her sign vocabulary of over 1,000 words, one wish that Koko has expressed in the past is to have a baby. The Gorilla Foundation hopes that Koko will produce a child with her 19-year-old companion, Ndume who came to the Gorilla Foundation on loan from the Cincinnati Zoo (Koko chose him from a video selection of available male zoo gorillas). At thirty, an age when many human females are concerned about their ‘biological clock,1 Koko is roughly middle-aged for a gorilla, but not past her reproductive years. Gorillas can live into their fifties and the oldest female gorilla to have her first child was thirty-seven.

Koko Checks the Time Photo by Dr. Ron Cohn © 2001 The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org

Her special day will start with an early morning walk around the grounds, with Koko freely helping herself to all the vegetation gorillas find irresistibleÐroses, dandelions and plums as well as acacia, bamboo, willow, persimmon and apple leaves. Koko will open gifts from her admirers around the world and then have her feast, designed to be low in fat, sodium and sugar and high in fiber.

" We always love gorilla birthdays here," said Dr. Penny Patterson, President and Director of Research of the not-for-profit, 30,000 member supported Gorilla Foundation, " but this is an even bigger event because as Koko celebrates her 30th, the Gorilla Foundation marks its 25th anniversary as an organization. On this special occasion, we reflect on our accomplishments, count our blessings for the generosity of our members and supporters and re-dedicate ourselves to the care and welfare of Koko, Ndume and gorillas everywhere."

Koko Looks for More Gifts Photo by Dr. Ron Cohn © 2001 The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org

It is the mission of The Gorilla Foundation to share interspecies communication with people worldwide to save gorillas from extinction and inspire humanity to create a better future for all great apes (humans included!).

A key element in support of the Foundation's mission has been, and will continue to be, the inspiration that Koko's story provides for children and adults around the world. The Foundation's written, photographed and filmed documentation and analysis of Koko's interaction and communication with her human care-givers over the past 29 years of "Project Koko" have provided a window into the mind of another species.

Koko's remarkable facility with language and her gentle love of kittens has captured the hearts and imaginations of the public and inspired millions of school children to read, write letters, and to learn more about gorillas and other endangered species and the need to protect them. One teacher recently wrote, "When we think of saving the earth, we can not help but think of Koko."

Audio-visual educational resources used by teachers include the Gorilla Foundation's Journal, Gorilla, the website www.koko.org, television in documentaries like NATURE's "A Conversation with Koko," and children1s books such as the award-winning Koko's Kitten and Koko-Love! Conversations with a Signing Gorilla.

With these materials and the celebrity and appeal of Koko, important and timely conservation values education efforts are also being undertaken in Cameroon and other African countries where gorillas live through the efforts of Dr. Tony Rose under the auspices of the Gorilla Foundation's Wildlife Protector's Fund.

Dr. Patterson said "If commercial hunting of gorillas and other endangered great apes does not end soon, these relatives of ours will not survive in their natural habitat in Africa."


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The Gorilla Foundation / Koko.org
1733 Woodside Rd., Suite 330
Redwood City, CA, 94061
1-800-ME-GO-APE (634-6273)

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