Koko & Michael Explore the Outdoors

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Photographer: Ronald H. Cohn

Videographer: Ronald H. Cohn

Source: KokoArc Videos 567 and 684

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In the above video, filmed between 1988-1991, gorilla Koko and her companion Michael (raised with Koko from the age of 3) spend time together in their large outdoor enclosure. In addition to their indoor bedrooms and playrooms, the gorillas spent many hours every day in this outdoor space located in a densely forested area in the Santa Cruz mountains.

The large (quarter-acre) yard was designed for the gorillas to be able to use all of the enclosed space — all 3 dimensions — by climbing the mesh, playground equipment and trees within. In the video, in addition to climbing, Michael uses the branches of a cut tree to build a nest around himself which free-living gorillas do in their native habitats.

The site was built on a former orchard, and contains lots of edible foliage such as persimmon, plum and apple. In the video, Penny hands Michael some persimmon leaves fresh from the trees.

Over the years, we added more features to their outdoor space, such as shelves, platforms, cargo nets, and fire-hose curtains, which provided both enrichment and privacy for the gorillas. Koko had a favorite shelf, where she would often enjoy her breakfast, and another shelf with a nice forest/ocean view.

Thus, Koko and Michael were able to enjoy lots of quiet time outside in a natural setting, with caregivers nearby, available to provide additional food, enrichment or conversation.

Signs: (min:sec) 01:02 Koko signs “This” to the clip holding up the cargo net 01:13 Koko signs “Lip” (her sign for Female) to a caregiver on the ground outside the mesh that she then climbs down to visit. Source:

Video Source/Credits:The above video contains excerpts from KokoArc videos 567 and 684, filmed in 1988 and 1991, respectively. Video 567 was filmed by Gorilla Foundation founder, Dr. Penny Patterson, and video 684 was filmed by her co-founder, Dr. Ronald H. Cohn. 

Learn More:
The KokoArc digital archive, created by The Gorilla Foundation, and representing nearly 5 decades of interspecies communication research with gorillas Koko, Michael, and Ndume, intended to learn about gorillas, establish worldwide empathy for them, improve their lives in captivity, and save them from extinction in the wild.

To receive regular video updates from the KokoArc archive, with personalized comments by the founders, you can subscribe (it’s free) at koko.org/kokomail.