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EVENT: Oct. 18, 2005
Koko's Self Portrait Selected as
One of Top 40 Magazine Covers
of the Last 40 Years

The 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.

B e h i n d    t h e    S c e n e s
Ron and Koko
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 photographers."

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.

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   Copyright 2005 The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org.