Conservation through Communication — Gorillas are critically endangered in the wild and not given sufficient autonomy or natural surroundings in captivity. The Gorilla Foundation has a solution for both problems: Our mission is to apply what we’ve learned via 5 decades of interspecies communication to put gorillas’ needs first in captivity, save them from extinction in the wild, and continue our dialogue with them to sustain their well-being.
Founded in 1976, The Gorilla Foundation is best known for “Project Koko” — the longest interspecies communication study in history (nearly 50 years) and the only one ever conducted with gorillas — in which gorilla Koko learned over 1000 words of American Sign Language (ASL) and comprehended over 2000 words of spoken English. Koko’s companion Michael showed similar capabilities indicating that all gorillas have a natural proclivity for gestural communication and can use it creatively and productively.
The Foundation’s mission initially focused on the scientific understanding of gorilla cognitive capabilities and evolved to focus on the application of our understanding — gained via interspecies communication.
We can achieve radically improved gorilla conservation and care by implementing the following 4 key programs:
1) KokoArc — Digitization, analysis and sharing of our 5-decade Project Koko research archive. This includes tagging thousands of hours of interspecies communication video data, and research notes, and analyzing and building upon it.
2) KokoApp — Development of a new phone app designed to teach American Sign Language with the help of Koko and her caregivers, and to provide opportunities to test learners’ new skills by translating interspecies communication videos.
3) Kids4Koko — Creation of a worldwide network of kids dedicated to becoming voices for Nature in whatever career they choose to pursue (aka KokoKids).
4) KokoCares — Innovative new designs for improving gorilla care in captivity, via natural/tropical sanctuaries both inside and outside of zoos.
Koko has given
humanity the gift of
“talking with the animals”
for more than
four decades now.
It’s time for other gorillas to learn from Koko …
The Gorilla Foundation is in the process of digitizing our entire 50-year Project Koko (Interspecies Communication) Research Archive, so that all of our data (videos, coded notes, art, etc.) are protected, preserved and shared with both other researchers and the general public.
The Koko App will enable everyone to learn sign language from Koko as a teacher (as well as from Dr. Penny Patterson Koko’s teacher). The app will include dozens of interspecies communication videos involving Koko and others, to help reinforce learning of sign language, as well as understanding of the gorilla mind.
The “Kids4Koko” (aka KokoKids) network will allow kids to subscribe to a service via the app and become Voices for Nature (like Koko).
We have 70 acres of leased tropical land in the west hills of the island of Maui, Hawaii. This land can be used to create the first natural gorilla sanctuary outside Africa for gorillas unable to adapt to zoo life.
Together, we can pioneer the first natural (tropical) gorilla sanctuary featuring autonomy and non-disruptive video monitoring.
Koko passed away in her sleep on June 18, 2018 just 2 weeks before her 47th birthday on July 4th. She lived a full and loving life, and has been mourned by millions of people around the world — a process that continues to this day.
She taught us so much about herself, her species, and about ourselves — how humans can be more humane. And the lessons we’ve learned from Koko must never be forgotten — primarily that the conservation of our fellow great ape species can be achieved through good communication — interspecies communication!
Please help us realize the full potential of Koko’s Legacy by supporting the above projects, and transmitting the lessons of “Project Koko” to ALL great apes, both captive and free-living.
We have finally learned to “talk with the animals” and learned that “all gorillas are Kokos!” Let’s continue this precious dialogue for the benefit (and survival) of all concerned — great apes, our children and Nature!
5th grade teacher
“When we think of saving the Earth, we can't help but think of Koko!"
A 6-year old boy
“All gorillas are Kokos”
© 2022 The Gorilla Foundation / Koko.org