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This article was published in:
"Ontario Dentist" October 2004

When Koko the gorilla used American Sign Language to tell her teacher Penny Patterson that her mouth was in pain, 12 specialists, including three dentists, sprang into action.

When Koko began explaining her discomfort, pointing to a molar on her upper left, Dr. Patterson devised a pain chart offering Koko a scale from 1 to 10. When Koko indicated that an operation was needed as opposed to more medicine, a dental appointment was made.

"She would clearly communicate her pain level using her pain chart," explained research assistant/gorilla caregiver Tierra Wilson. "We were all eager to help."

"It's not often that we get to work on a celebrity," Dr. David Liang, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford, said. "Probably Koko is less demanding."

The only significant findings were periodontally related and were successfully treated by Dr.Bob Turner, DDS, Dr.Joe A. Provines ,DMD and Dr.Merhan Fotovatjah, DDS.

Koko insisted on meeting her specialists before she went under anesthesia. They crowded around her, and Koko asked one woman wearing orange to come closer. The woman handed her a business card, which Koko later politely returned. Koko was excited and eager for her tooth to be fixed.

Koko is now resting after her operation. "She is doing exceptionally well, purring occasionally and generally wondering what all the fuss is about," said Tierra Wilson.

Adapted fromThe Gorilla Foundation /


Koko showing her pain level on her pain chart.


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That's about how I feel when going to the dentist...

I wonder what size her toothbrush is? he he.. Bounce

That would make a great toothpaste commercial! Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin

Koko is probably better than many HUMANS her age!

This is a fun story Inda, thanks! Bananas to all! he he..

Love and light breath, Teo Yum Yum

Have the heart of a gypsy, and the dedication of a soldier -Beethoven in Beethoven Lives Upstairs


Project Koko is the cornerstone of TGF/'s work. By demonstrating the intelligence of gorillas, TGF/ can more effectively lobby for the humane treatment of captive animals and increased conservation efforts for those that are free-living. Project Koko has proven the stereotyped image of gorillas as blood-thirsty, destructive monsters unequivocally false. Indeed, it has forced a re-examination of traditional thought regarding all animals. The project has shown that an animal can possess qualities that were previously considered exclusively human, such as thought processes, imagination and feelings. This knowledge is crucial to all animal advocacy efforts, from the prevention of cruelty to animals to the conservation and preservation of endangered species.

Koko (born July 4, 1971, in San Francisco, California) is the name of a gorilla taught by Dr. Francine 'Penny' Patterson and other scientists at Stanford University to communicate with more than 1,000 signs based on American Sign Language, and understand approximately 2,000 words of spoken English. She has lived most of her life in Woodside, California, but plans for a move to a sanctuary in Maui, Hawaii, are nearing attainment.
Last edited by Vicky2
Koko's cats

Although not unique, Koko is one of the few non-humans known to keep pets of a different species. She has cared for several cats over the years and Koko's relationship with All Ball was featured in the 1987 book Koko's Kitten (Scholastic Press, ISBN 0-590-44425-5), which was written by Dr. Patterson.

Other gorillas known to have cared for pets include Toto.

Last edited by Vicky2
By the human way of reckoning, Koko is surely the world's most accomplished gorilla, having mastered more than 1,000 words in American sign language. In doing so, she has helped overturn age-old preconceptions about the limits of animal intelligence, expressing thoughts and emotions of astonishing sophistication.

How wonderful that Koko can go to a nice sanctuary on Maui, HI

Last edited by Sue 1
Thank you yoko.

I see that Koko already has a lei.
This is beautiful.

Vicky 2Hearts 2Hearts

Here is a little bit of a sad story:

Michael and Ndume

Michael, a gorilla who lived with Koko for several years, also developed a broad vocabulary of signs, over 600, but did not become as proficient as Koko before his death in 2000. Michael's caregivers believe that he witnessed and remembered his mother's death at the hands of poachers, but was unable to clearly express the event. In the PBS Nature special Koko: Conversation with a Gorilla a group of Michael's signs is interpreted to be an attempt to convey a description of his mother being shot as he watched. While it was intended that Koko and Michael might produce a baby gorilla and teach it to sign, the two saw each other as siblings and did not mate.

Another gorilla, named Ndume, was selected by Koko from a group of videotapes shown to her by her "Mother" Penny, who played several tapes showing male apes of her species, in what may be described as an attempt at "video-dating." Despite these efforts, Koko and Ndume have also not become mates.


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Thank you for adding to this thread. I love Koko with the lei. i see she is ready for Hawaii.

Thank you for introducing Ndume.

To further the strategy of increasing gorilla populations through captive breeding, a male lowland gorilla, Ndume, joined The Gorilla Foundation/ in 1991. Born in 1981 and already a father of three, 400-pound Ndume is Koko's intended mate. Ndume is also providing the opportunity for us to discover methods of dealing with aberrant behaviors. This information will benefit all captive gorillas.

Koko selected Ndume from a number of available males


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Another picture of Koko and favourite pet cat.
Koko was devastated when the cat died, and it took a long time to draw Koko out of depression.

All primates express emotions, but because of her command of sign language, Koko can convey to us feelings that her wild counterparts cannot," explains Dr. Francine (Penny) Patterson, who heads the Gorilla Foundation and has been working with Koko and teaching her sign language since 1972.


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Koko apparently is still in California.

At the age of 41, Koko is nearing the end of her child-bearing years. Yet she still expresses maternal yearnings for a baby, and still signs her desire to be part of a typical gorilla family, which consists of one dominant male surrounded by many females and offspring.

If the Gorilla Foundation reaches its goals of fundraising and new leadership, Koko may be able to live out her days in a safe, natural preserve in Maui, with rescued and orphaned gorillas she could mother.

Since 1990, the foundation has had access to a natural preserve in Maui, where they planned to construct the first tropical gorilla sanctuary outside of Africa.

Such a home, they say, could provide a refuge for hundreds of gorillas facing extinction from a combination of poaching and over-development in their homelands.

But fundraising faltered. They remain roughly $10 million shy of their goal. Other issues intervened as well and the foundation’s dream of a Maui Preserve has not yet materialized.

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Koko turned 45 in July, and with both human and primate approaching their twilight years, the topic of what should happen in the case of death is a sensitive one for Patterson. While there are staff members who could physically look after Koko, as they did when Patterson was in the hospital for three weeks with a broken hip, the pair’s bond is irreplaceable — an effect the grad student likely never considered when first admiring that baby gorilla in the zoo decades ago.

Koko never got to Hawaii, she lives in the Santa Cruz mountains in California.


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