Michael’s Story

Michael the gorilla was born in Africa, became a bushmeat orphan, and at age three he came from the Vienna Zoo to the Gorilla Foundation in the United States, joining Koko when she was six. Michael learned American Sign Language with Koko and Penny and became quite fluent (using over 500 signs). Michael was an extraordinary gorilla — an artist, music lover, articulate storyteller, and Koko’s best friend. When asked what he remembered about his mother, Michael told and repeated a very disturbing story in sign language, shown in the following video. We think this may be the only first-hand account of bushmeat poaching by a gorilla.


Unfortunately Michael passed away in the year 2000, at age 27. However, we continue to learn and be inspired by him — by his life, his sustained influence on Koko, the vast amount of data we collected on him, and through the fascinating recent brain studies that give biological background to his extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity. We are preparing to publish a new book, Michael’s Dream, which chronicles his life and times. It will be a companion book for older readers of Koko’s Kitten in conservation education, especially in Africa where he was born.