A Sensitive Male

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Ndume is Koko’s male gorilla companion. For those of you who don’t know, Ndume came from the Cincinnati Zoo in 1991 to live with Koko, by Koko’s own choice (the gorilla version of video dating). He is 10 years younger than Koko (he’ll turn 21 in October) and they get along splendidly. Ndume is an intelligent and sensitive soul, genuinely concerned for those around him, especially Koko. The following recent transcripts illustrate these qualities, and also show that Ndume uses and invents signs, unaided by the humans who taught Koko this gestural language. 6/13/02: Koko has not been feeling well and has spent the past few days inside. Today, she comes out to the play yard. I kiss to Koko. Ndume glances over at her. PENNY: I think Koko needs a kiss, Ndume. NDUME: Purr. Then Ndume runs past Koko, directing a clap to me as he goes and then signs, NDUME: Stink. I suggest to Koko that Ndume might kiss her and she nods. Then I propose that we kiss Ndume and ask Koko if I should try. Ndume makes a kiss. I praise him and he purrs and kisses more. PENNY: Kisses are so nice. NDUME: Mine. PENNY: Ndume is wonderful today, talking to you, Koko. Ndume and Koko purr alternately. PENNY: I bet Koko would like to squeeze Ndume, it would be fun (voice only). NDUME: Purr, squeeze. (Ndume invents this sign: he squeezes and tugs at the skin on his chest in the nipple area). 7/10/02 Koko goes out this morning but instead of socializing and foraging, she climbs up onto a shelf, reclines on her back, and stays there. This is very unusual behavior and I tell Ndume that “Koko is not feeling well today.” Ndume runs over to where she is and throws a magazine up her way, getting it halfway up to the shelf. Koko sits up and scratches herself persistently. After I tell Koko that I can get lotions and creams to help her, Ndume comes back over. I explain to him, PENNY: Koko’s not feeling quite right, her teeth are not right and she does not feel like eating, at least that’s our best guess; maybe she will tell us what’s wrong (voice only). NDUME: Sorry. PENNY: Oh what a sweet boy! NDUME: Kiss. KOKO: Purr. PENNY: He’s a sweet boy, says he’s sorry you’re not feeling well, Koko. A little later, I bring two drinks. I give one to Koko who is still on the shelf, and offer one to Ndume. He does not come over for it; this has never happened before. PENNY: I can give it to Koko if you like. NDUME: Yes (small nod). I give the water to Koko, who signs KOKO: Give-me. PENNY: He’s a wonderful gentleman! Ndume looks back at us, PENNY: Yes he is! Koko drinks the second bottle of water. I tell Koko, PENNY: Remember how you gave Joanne a drink when she had a sick stomach? Well, Ndume is doing the same for you. He is very nice. NDUME: Assent vocalization. PENNY: He’s very thoughtful of you when you’re not feeling good. We hope you get better very quickly. Koko is recovering nicely and Ndume and Koko have been playing chase games with the dogs, Koko taking the initiative with Raven, a Standard Poodle, and Ndume taking the lead with Max, a Staffordshire Terrier. Ndume, in his characteristically thoughtful manner, has been selecting the doggie dumbbell toy during recent sessions. It happens to be Raven’s favorite fetch toy. Koko and Ndume Ndume and Koko look forward to a future together at the Maui Preserve. Penny