It”s good when others can understand you (and vice versa).

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Photographer: Ron Cohn

Source: Gary Stanley

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Koko”s learned ability to communicate with humans in (American) sign language has benefits that we at the Gorilla Foundation often take for granted. For example, Koko can sign “open” when she wants her caregivers to open her gate to go back inside (or “outside” when she”s inside), “more food” if she”s still hungry after a meal, “apple juice” if she”s “thirsty” for some, “toilet” when she wants to use the potty, “thank you” when she appreciates something, and “love” (or “Koko love”) when she wants to express her feelings about something or someone.

And with a vocabulary of over 1000 signs (used in various combinations and phrases), she usually has little difficulty making herself understood. But the really difficult thing to remember sometimes is that because she understands even more words of spoken English, and has an extraordinary sense of hearing, we have to be very careful not to upset her with stressful topics and “gossip” (a word she often signs) when we”re having our “private” human-to-human conversations.