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Koko’s Kitten   <  Page 12  >

Ball was often a topic of conversation during Koko’s lessons.

“Love visit,” Koko signed when Ball and I arrived for a morning lesson.

“Ball,” I said.

“Trouble,” signed Koko. “Love.”

Koko seemed to enjoy conversations about her kitten. This dialogue took place between Koko and a research assistant named Janet.

“I’ll give you some grapes if you tell me about Ball, the cat,” Janet said.

“Soft,” Koko signed.

“What kind of animal is he?” Janet asked.

“Cat, cat, cat,” Koko answered.

“Do you love Ball?”

“Soft, good cat cat,” Koko signed.


In addition to sign language, art is another way I test Koko’s perceptions. Ball lay with a green toy on an orange towel.

All Ball poses for Koko

I gave Koko a canvas and some paints and asked her to draw Ball. Koko had ten colors to choose from. First she picked black for Ball’s body. Next she picked orange for the towel and green for the toy.

“What about Ball’s eyes?” I asked.

Koko picked tan.

Koko’s painting of All Ball


Koko loves to play games. Her favorites are “chase,” “blow-it,” and “tickle.”

Koko likes to be tickled, and she thinks that others will like it, too.

“Tickle,” Koko signed to Ball when they were lying on the floor together.

Ball was not a good tickler, nor did he like to be tickled. So Koko and I pretended. I tickled Koko while carrying the kitten in my hand. Koko thought this was very funny.

“Chase, blow-it. Enjoy,” Koko signed to Ball.

In blow-it, Koko blows as hard as she can into the face of her playmate. It’s not hard to understand why this game was not one of Ball’sfavorites.

Chase is similar to tag. Players run back and forth and chase each other. This is a popular game among gorillas in the wild. But Ball never quite caught on to chase.

Koko did not realize that kittens don’t necessarily enjoy gorilla games.

Koko did understand that kittens like warmth, affection, and attention. 

And Koko supplied plenty.

Koko tickles All Ball

Koko’s Kitten   <  Page 12  >

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