Koko Inspires Children

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Throughout Project Koko, which began in 1972, it has become clear that Koko’s story captivates children all over the world. When children see that Koko is so much like them, it creates empathy for Gorillas and has the potential to inspire the next generation to step into action and actually help protect endangered Great Apes — gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, all of whom are critically endangered.

The Gorilla Foundation receives hundreds of letters each year from children who have recently discovered Koko or who have been introduced to her through school curriculum. They send Koko pictures, letters, and cards, just to show Koko they care about her. Penny shares these pictures and letters with Koko, who relishes them, and especially enjoys all of the complimentary and supportive messages she receives from children and teachers.

What really seems to grab the children’s attention is seeing Koko gently “mother” her new kittens, Ms. Gray and Ms. Black, reminiscent of how Koko cared for her first kitten, All Ball (see the book, Koko’s Kitten, by founders Patterson and Cohn).  Children learn, by witnessing Koko’s tenderness, that gorillas are intelligent, loving, and empathetic beings.

Video of Koko’s evolving relationship with her new kittens, who are growing into cats.
(If you missed the original video of Koko meeting her new kettens, you can view it here.)

Many children write with a fascination about Koko’s language ability — the fact that she uses American Sign Language makes them want to reach out to her and have a conversation. They send many questions to Koko: For example, Sara, of Baird Middle School in Ludlow, MA, asked, “What are you going to be,” in reference to a Halloween costume; or Shelby of Lakeside School in Eufaula, AL who wrote, “My class is raising money to help the gorilla species;” and Acadia of Rolling Acres Elementary School in Littlestown, PA, who asked Koko, “How do you wash yourself?”

Card to Koko by Sara of Baird Middle School in Nancy Kielbasa’s Class — Ludlow MA

Children by nature are inquisitive and eager to help.. Koko, as an ambassador for her species, touches the hearts and minds of children all over the world, and motivates them to save gorillas. What children have only imagined, Koko proves is real — we really CAN talk with the animals

Kids love both kittens and gorillas, but their love for “gorillas who love kittens”
inspires them to do more than just watch.




Lisa Holliday is Executive Personal Assistant to Gorilla Foundation Founder, Dr. Penny Patterson, and one of Koko’s best friends.  She has experience in business management, hospitality services and as a personal assistant to high-level officials. She also has a deep connection to the natural world, especially gorillas. Before entering the business world, Lisa worked for Greenpeace and was a docent at a marine laboratory, where she rehabilitated dolphins and sea lions. She eventually became a volunteer at TGF, and in 2014 joined the staff “to make it possible for Penny to spend more quality time with Koko.”.