Oct. 18, 2005
Self Portrait Selected as
One of Top 40 Magazine Covers
of the Last 40 Years
photo at left was actually taken by Koko in 1978 (when
she was just 7 years old), and the photo she's snapping
is of herself aiming the camera at the mirror. The photo
was of such high quality and significance that it was
chosen to be the cover photo for the October 1978 National
Geographic article featuring Koko:
Twenty seven years later, the American Society of Magazine
Editors have selected its appearance on National Geographic
to be one of the top 40 magazine covers of the last 40
years (1965-2005). You can read the details about the
selection and the other winners on the Magazine
Publishers of America website.
Note that this photo alone dispelled two major misconceptions
about gorillas: 1) that they were incapable of using tools,
and 2) that they were not capable of recognizing themsleves
in a mirror — a cognitive ability that is supposed
to be necessary for self-awareness. Since then, Koko has
gone on to dispell many other myths about gorillas (and
other great apes) such as showing how gentle they can
be with humans and even tiny kittens, that they are capable
of the full range of human emotions, that they can empathize
with others, have a sense of humor, can be embarassed,
and that they can feel and express both physical and emotional
pain (eg, grieving for her kitten) and deep love and a
sense of kinship across species (eg, with Dr. Penny Patterson).
Moreover, they are highly intelligent and can use technology
(eg, VCRs, remote controls, computers, phones) —
and even language (sign language in Koko's case) —
in both conventional and innovative ways.
And Koko, it turns out, is not that unique as a gorilla
— her male companions Michael (who passed away in
2000) and Ndume exhibit all of the same capabilities though
with their own personal strengths and weaknesses. So in
a sense, the above photo of Koko taking her self-portrait
can also be viewed as a photo of a gorilla taking "our"
photo in that it forces us to take a new look at ourselves
and makes it practically impossible to turn away.
e h i n d t h e S
c e n e s
Gorilla Foundation co-founder, vice president and photo-documentarian
Dr. Ronald Cohn (see photo at right) initially showed
Koko how to use a camera with a tripod for the National
Geographic article about Project Koko in 1978. But National
Geographic liked the photo so much that they asked if
Koko could learn to take the photo without the tripid
(so they could see more of her) and use it on the cover
of the magazine.
Koko learned quickly from Ron how to use the camera and
knew exactly what she was doing when she pointed it at
herself in the mirror. All Ron did was set up the lighting
(in those days computer photo correction was not an option)
and let Koko do her thing.
Note: National Geographic paid Koko a fee of $500 for
her photo, as it was their policy to pay all "cover
Over the years, Dr. Cohn has taken thousands of extraordinary
photos of Koko and other gorillas and eventually had an
award-winning photo of his own appear on the Jan. 1985
cover of National Geographic — the photo of Koko
cuddling her kitten: "Koko
and All-Ball." — which (along with the
story) changed the world's perspective about gorillas
as "King Kong" forever.
Please Help Koko Save Her Species
Copyright 2005 The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org.