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  Q1:  What are the goals of The Gorilla Foundation?

  Q2:  How do you respond to those who dispute Koko's ability to
         "talk" or use sign language creatively?

  Q3:  Is Koko extraordinary, or are all gorillas capable of learning
         sign language and other skills, as she did?

  Q4:  What sets Koko apart from other gorillas in captivity?

  Q5:  Is the search for a mate for Koko still active? 

  Q6:  How can a gorilla in "captivity" help a gorilla in the "wild?"

  Q7:  What can we learn from Koko's relationship with her kittens?

  Q8:  Which celebrity formed the biggest bond with Koko?

  Q9:  Will The Gorilla Foundation ever move to Maui?

Q10:  Does Koko live in a cage, what does she eat, describe
          her environment (indoors and outdoors)?


Q1:  What are the goals of the Gorilla Foundation?

Our goals are:
• To continue to provide the best possible care for Koko and Ndume.
• To enhance the Woodside sanctuary and to increase Koko’s family
• To create a sanctuary for captive gorillas on Maui
• To continue our interspecies communication project and share our insights with other primate organizations
• To work with empathy-engaging materials to spread the conservation message throughout gorilla habitats in Africa and to change hearts and minds about gorillas, worldwide.
• To develop educational tools (multimedia e-books and apps) to enable others to interpret our work, be inspired by it, and replicate it to help free-living gorillas as well as those living in sanctuaries and zoos.

See our current STRATEGIC PLAN for details.


Q2:  How do you respond to those who dispute claims that Koko and other gorillas can talk?

Forty-four years of clearly documented research, authenticated scientific papers,, daily coded research diaries, plus thousands of hours of videos and most importantly, first hand experience. Koko not only learned signs, but also created her own new signs, as needed. Gorillas communicate in many ways, including, not only gestures, but also vocalizations (e.g., uh-huh for yes and uh-uh for no), postures, facial expressions, and a variety of techniques using objects and visual and print materials. In addition, recent studies have identified over 100 natural gestures used by both captive and free-living gorillas to communicate with each other.

For specific publications addressing Herb Terrace's skeptical claims about apes using language, refer to the following 2 papers, by Dr. Penny Patterson.  Such claims were addressed and resolved in the 1980's:

Dr. Patterson's reply to Terrace in the 1980 (July) issue of SCIENCE
Dr. Patterson's reply to Terrace (again) in 1987 issue of American Psychologist

For additional scientific publications about Project Koko by Gorilla Foundation authors, consult our Bibliography.

Q3:  Do you think Koko is extraordinary, or do you think all gorillas are capable of learning as she did?

Koko is clearly not unique in her signing ability. Her original male companion, Michael used, learned and innovated with signs, as well, including a detailed description of his mother’s death at the hands of bush-meat hunters, which he probably witnessed as an infant in Africa. Gorillas appear to have their own natural gestural system, which has been observed in a number of captive and free-living settings. In fact, 10% of Koko’s 1000-sign vocabulary was not taught, but were natural gestures, for example: “take-off” (hand moving rapidly forward above the head). Additionally, a five-year old answered that for us when he said, “All gorillas are Kokos!” However, Koko is unique in her capacity as an ambassador for her species and all endangered species. And recently, she was honored by being asked to represent the “Voice of Nature” in a video presented at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21).

Q4:  What sets Koko apart from other gorillas in captivity?

Koko lives in a sanctuary, not a zoo, so it is not open to the public. She has spent her whole life living in a mixed human/gorilla family. She was introduced to spoken English at 6 months old and signing and reading at one year of age. She is able to communicate her wants, needs and feelings - and her caregivers make sure she is accommodated. In fact, Koko participates in her own care, by ongoing two-way communication with her caregivers.

Q5:  Is the search for a mate for Koko still active?

Koko has a mate, Ndume, who has been with us for 25 years and is 10 years younger than Koko. But a couple is not a viable social unit for successful gorilla child rearing. We have been trying to arrange for Koko to have her birthright: a natural gorilla family group with multiple females, for many years in the US without success. We are now seeking options worldwide, and enhancing her Woodside home to be a sanctuary for such a family. Koko now wants both her human family and a natural gorilla family. She defines herself as a “fine gorilla person.”

Q6:  How can a gorilla in “captivity” help gorillas in the wild?

The Gorilla Foundation believes that changing hearts and minds by bringing an understanding of just how like us these gentle giants are, with similar feelings, emotions and thought processes, makes people care and is a powerful tool for conservation. Bringing our two books, “Koko’s kitten” and “Michael’s Dream” to readers in gorilla habitat countries is a giant step, building greater empathy and understanding everywhere, and changing poachers to protectors. Our Conservation pilot studies have proven to be very successful and we are creating curricula for schools in Cameroon, which incorporate the books. Sadly poaching continues to be a very real threat to Gorillas today. In fact poaching and land destruction are the two biggest threats to them. Gorillas are considered “critically endangered”, which means that they will die out within the next generation if we do not fight to stop this.

Q7:  What can we learn from Koko’s relationships with kittens?

From the moment when Koko first adopted a kitten, the world watched, with baited breath, to see the extraordinary sight of this gentle giant displaying incredible sensitivity and care in her interaction with these tiny creatures. Koko has had a succession of kittens over the years, but it was her relationship with “Allball”, her first kitten that raised awareness and empathy worldwide, not only by her display of maternal care, but also by the incredible grief she displayed when she learnt that Allball had been hit by a car. The full range of her experience and emotional reactions is clearly almost identical to that of a similar human experience and serves to underline just how closely we resemble one another.

Q8:  Which celebrity formed the biggest bond with Koko and why do you believe they had such a close connection?

Betty White, because she is a strong advocate for all animals, as Koko is. Betty also had a number of intimate and relaxed visits with Koko, and was not shy about expressing her love to Koko. Besides, Koko recognized Betty from TV and was a bit starstruck. 

Q9:  Will the Gorilla Foundation ever move to Maui?

One of our goals is to build the first Gorilla Sanctuary outside of Africa. We began building the Maui Ape Preserve in the late 1990’s based on 70 acres of leased land. Some infrastructure was created but the project was put on hold for diverse reasons. However we are actively pursuing this project. We are currently beginning to raise funds to purchase the additional 350 acres that we will need. Although it seems unlikely that Koko herself will now move to Maui, we believe that the creation of this Sanctuary is a fitting part of the legacy for Koko and the incredible work accomplished by Koko and Dr. Patterson.

Q10:  Does Koko live in a cage, what does she eat, what is her environment like?

Koko lives in a sanctuary in Woodside, California. Koko’s home is a warm cozy environment that she has known since she first moved up from Stanford University . Koko spends her days either in her living area, which includes a kitchen and where she has her many toys, books, magazines and DVD’s or outside in her large outdoor enclosure, which she shares with her companion Ndume. There is an open porch area where Koko receives visits and this area is protected by a mesh sliding door, which allows Koko to decide whether she wishes to invite her guests inside or not! Koko, Penny and Ron spend their afternoons and evenings together here. Koko’s meals are prepared by her caregivers and a wonderful group of volunteers. Gorillas are vegetarian and Koko’s diet is rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables. 


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To see our promising new Strategic Plan to create a sustainable future for gorillas and other great apes, while continuing our dialogue with them:  click here.


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

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Our mission is to learn about gorillas by communicating with them, and apply our knowledge to advance great ape conservation, education, care and empathy.
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