Koko, What Do You Want for Your Birthday?

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Koko will turn 32 this July 4th (her full name, Hanabi-ko, means “Fireworks Child” in Japanese). Every year in advance of Koko’s birthday, I ask Koko what she would like and I always get interesting replies. This year, the dialogue (in sign language) went like this: Penny: Koko, what do you want for your birthday? Koko: SANDWICH BIRTHDAY. (signing birthday by blowing on all ten fingers held in front of her face). Koko then proceeds to get the key to the doors of the building as well as the research data clipboard (both things her human companions use daily, but she seldom has access to). Penny: What else do you want for your birthday? (hoping for an expanded wishlist) Koko starts writing copiously on various pages of the data clipboard. Koko: SANDWICH COOKIE TIME KOKO-LOVE. Koko then takes me over to the refrigerator, and I ask . . . Penny: What kind of surprises? Koko: SURPRISE CONTAINER TIME WITH CANDY. On Christmas Koko got a package of candy-coated sunflower seeds and subsequently on very special occasions has received them from a pill box container as rewards for jobs well done. We also know from previous conversations with Koko that she would like something else as soon as possible, if not this birthday, then next …  a bouncing baby bundle of gorilla joy. Koko Kisses Her Gorilla ‘Baby’ That is what Koko really wants for her birthday. She is always asking for a baby, either directly, or by pretending mother-child behavior with her gorilla dolls (never with her human dolls). And while Koko’s still in the prime of her childbearing years, the clock is ticking. So, we have stepped up our efforts to do everything in our power to help make her wish come true. This includes modifying her current home in Woodside so that she and Ndume (her younger male companion) can spend more quality time together at their own discretion. Originally a bit skeptical, Koko has adapted beautifully to the new arrangements. Koko Eyes Ndume Napping Now she and Ndume frolic delightedly together, chasing each other, playfully tossing things around and just generally being silly — all healthy signs that they are growing more intimate. We have also added a veterinarian to our staff who has great expertise caring for gorillas. Monitoring gorilla health, he pays close attention to Koko’s hormonal cycles. That way we can provide every opportunity for togetherness during her most fertile times. However, the missing link may be the anticipated move to her new home at the Maui Ape Preserve sanctuary, as this will provide more freedom, more privacy, and more natural foliage for foraging in a much more suitable (tropical) climate for gorillas. It will also provide an opportunity to share her habitat with additional gorillas, hopefully increasing the female-to-male ratio to a level characteristic of gorilla families. This should give Koko more confidence in starting a family with a much larger silverback (Ndume). Koko Enjoys an Outdoor Walk While Koko knows we’re doing everything possible to expedite the move to Maui, she is still impatient. During a visit great-ape advocate Peter Gabriel made to the Gorilla Foundation, we played his enchanting song “Don’t Give Up” for Koko, and I remarked : “Koko, we’re not going to give up on the Maui Ape Preserve.” Koko responded by immediately picking up the keys and using them on the door to the outside, as if to reinforce the point. Penny