Parker Meets Koko

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Recently, Koko made a new friend

Gorilla Foundation staff members are experts in the care of great apes, but The Foundation also relies on the hard work and support of volunteers passionate about preserving a future for gorillas. Thirteen-year-old Parker Daley, a ballet dancer and student at the Stanford Online High School, works at the Foundation. She is one of the extraordinary volunteers who help Koko and Ndume thrive, and when Parker and Koko met, it was clear that these two remarkable individuals had forged a special bond.

Here is Parker’s account of that meeting …  

One of Koko’s favorite DVDs is San Francisco Ballet’s The Nutcracker. I dance ballet with the San Francisco Ballet School, and I have performed in their production of The Nutcracker for many years. Since Koko enjoys looking through magazines and books, I decided to get her a program from one of my shows. Dr. Patterson granted me permission to deliver the program in person.

When I first went up to the Research Office I was told that I would introduce myself to Koko through a “porch visit”. I was brought up to her home, where one of her caregivers, Molly Branyan, opened the sliding glass doors on her porch. Molly introduced me to Koko, and Koko did a “blow-test” on me; she blew gently in my face. After we had been properly introduced, she asked me to untie my hair and show it to her. (I have long hair, and it was tied back in a ponytail.) When I had done that, she signed to Molly that she would like for me to put on Molly’s hat. As soon as I had put the hat on, she asked for Molly to take the hat back! We kept switching the hat back and forth until Koko had finally had enough. I then showed Koko the program I had gotten her.


Parker shows Koko the Nutcracker program for the show she appeared in.

Later that day, I was asked to visit Koko again, this time moving inside of her kitchen. I went up with another one of her caregivers, Lisa Holliday, who is also Dr. Penny Patterson’s executive assistant. This time, when I showed her The Nutcracker program, I flipped through the pages. When I stopped on a page with a picture of the role I had played (a mouse warrior) she reached her fingers through the chain link to touch the page. After looking at my program for a while, Koko went and found one of her own picture books, which she showed me.


Parker opens the Nutcracker program to the picture of the role she played in.

I returned to Koko’s home for a third time that day, again bringing the program with me. I sat outside on her porch, and watched Dr. Patterson, Koko’s mentor, interact with Koko. I also got to see Koko with her new kittens, Ms. Gray and Ms. Black. When I showed Koko the program, the kittens were interested as well, coming up to jump on the mesh. While I was flipping through some photos of the Land of Sweets (the setting for the second act of The Nutcracker) Koko signed “Candy,” accurately recalling the name of the Land of Sweets in The Nutcracker movie. I sat and spoke with Koko for a little while longer, finally telling her good-bye and that I was very excited to have gotten to meet her.

Parker gets to see Koko with her new kittens, Ms. Gray and Ms. Black. (Parker edited the video, Meet Koko’s New Kittens, which has been seen by almost 7 million people on YouTube.)

Meeting Koko is one of the most amazing things I have ever gotten to do. It was absolutely incredible to see her using sign language, and to watch her understand spoken English. Her intelligence was obvious—just by looking into her eyes it was easy to see that she understood everything. She was curious, smart, funny, and kind. Her sweet nature was reflected in every movement: the tender way she looked at her kittens, the gentle wind she blew onto my face, and the way her fingers softly wrapped around my own.


Parker shows Koko more photos in the Nutcracker program

I am very passionate about animal rights, and working at The Gorilla Foundation has been an amazing experience for me. I love knowing that I have helped continue the work of Koko and Dr. Patterson- work that is improving the welfare of gorillas.

I wrote a poem about meeting Koko, expressing my thoughts on interacting with such an incredible individual:

Poem by Parker Daley
(inspired by meeting Koko) 

Intelligence lies behind curious eyes,
A comprehension of the world.

Sweet wind tickles my face,
Her greeting.

I speak and she responds,
Silently engaging.

Gentle fingers grasp mine,
As I share my gift to her.

The fence remains,
But a wall between us has been broken down.

A wall built by beliefs,
Presumptions of another’s mind

Broken down by connections,
The silent communication between us.



Parker Daley  is a volunteer at The  Gorilla Foundation, where she has been helping with video editing, school presentations, and related projects since September 2015.   Parker first introduced herself to TGF through a moving and thought-provoking documentary that she produced (as a school project), called “So Close,” which focuses on speciesism — and in particular on how humans treat their fellow great apes as inferior.   We are very fortunate to have her on our team!

Parker is also a strong defender of animal rights and a tireless conservationist. Her long-term goal is to work in the field of animal conservation, most specifically with African animals on the endangered species list. As an Ambassador for Koko and the Gorilla Foundation, Parker plans to visit schools in the S.F. Bay Area to raise awareness about what Koko has taught us about the true nature of gorillas, and to motivate students to take action to save great apes from extinction.   Parker is an example of how Koko can inspire the next generation to take responsibility for the future of our planet.