Animal Aid Magazine

Koko and the Kittens


By Diane Small

Koko and the Kittens isn’t the name of the latest girl band–rather, it refers to Koko the gorilla and her new pets.

In case you’ve never come across Koko before, she’s famous for being a very communicative ape. She’s learned having many hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language, and has been able to show us what goes on in her mind. She’s signed her emotions, her desires, her likes and dislikes, and what we know is this: she hates violent films, loves cats, and is very broody.

She often signs the word ‘baby’, carries gorilla dolls in her arms, and even pretends that her dolls can sign by moving their arms and hands. In fact, she absolutely loves babies – but sadly, has never been able to have any of her own.

As a gift for Koko’s 44th birthday, her long-time trainer Francine Patterson brought her the next best thing to a gorilla baby: a box of tiny kittens.

Koko previously had her own cat called AllBall (she named her herself), but sadly, the feline was hit by a car, and when Koko found out, she was completely devastated and signalled ‘tears’ to indicate her sadness (apes cannot shed water from their eyes).

She seemed delighted by her new gift, making the signs for ‘cat’ followed by ‘baby’ — telling her trainers the kittens were now her ‘fur babies’.

Despite her enormous hands and huge capacity for strength, Koko was extremely gentle with the tiny balls of fluff when they arrived in a cardboard box, using only her fingertips to stroke them. She clearly adores kitties–in fact, you could say she’s a primate version of a ‘crazy cat lady’!

See Koko in action with her kitties:

You can also see a bit more about Koko’s life below: how she learned language, her bond with her trainers, what makes her feel guilty, what makes her laugh, and why she’s not been so lucky in love.

For us, Koko proves beyond a doubt that great apes are just like us–they feel the same emotions we do, can love and be loved. So why not grant them non-human persons status, as some zoologists are pushing for? No animal is more deserving.

To help gorilla conservation, please click here.

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