The primary program of The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org involves teaching American Sign Language to two lowland gorillas, Koko and Michael (who recently passed away). The Gorilla Language Project, or Project Koko, is the longest continuous inter-species communications project of its kind in the world, and it serves as a unique and irreplaceable resource for the international conservation community.
Studying gorilla intelligence and behavior will lead to a greater understanding of the species' physical and psychological needs. Only through knowledge can humans take the necessary steps to improve the treatment of captive gorillas and protect free-living gorillas from extinction.
Koko, a female lowland gorilla born in 1971, and Michael, a male lowland gorilla born in 1973, use sign language and understand spoken English. Koko's participation in this study began when she was one year old, and Michael's at the age of three and one-half. Their intellectual, physical, and linguistic development has been studied extensively since their infancy. Before Project Koko, very little was known about gorilla intelligence.
The Gorilla Language Project is both an effort to gather data about gorilla language and a case study of observed gorilla behavior and utterances. All signs, the context in which they occurred, the number of repetitions, and anything unusual that might have occurred during signing are recorded daily. The project administers informal and formal tests of vocabulary comprehension and of the understanding of relationships between objects and words, as well as standard child intelligence tests. There are also periodic video-taped sessions and audio-taped recordings.
In addition to intensive studies of vocabulary acquisition, the project has investigated spontaneous gorilla language use. This involves the study of innovative linguistic strategies, invention of new signs and compound words, simultaneous signing, self-directed signing, displacement, prevarication, reference to time and emotional states, gestural modulation, metaphorical word use, humor, definition, argument, insult, threat, fantasy play, storytelling and moral judgment. The depth and variety of gorilla language use has significantly exceeded initial expectations. Indeed, evidence has been found for the existence, in less developed form, of almost every aspect of human behavior.
Project Koko is the cornerstone of TGF/Koko.org's work. By demonstrating the intelligence of gorillas, TGF/Koko.org 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.
The study of gorilla language acquisition sheds light on the vital connection between gorillas and their sibling species, homo sapiens. Project Koko has contributed to the study of the evolution and development of human communication and suggests a gestural origin of human language.
MOTTO: Conservation through Communication
The Gorilla Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the preservation, protection and well-being of gorillas through interspecies communication research and education. The foundation was established in 1976 and is best known for its groundbreaking work with two western lowland gorillas, Koko and Michael, who learned to use a variant of American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with caregivers and others in their environment.
This research, known collectively as Project Koko, has become the longest-running interspecies communication study in history, and the only one involving gorillas. The results are published in numerous research papers, books and videos that can be found in the Gorilla Foundation's Bibliography.
During the past few decades, gorillas as a species have become critically endangered in Africa, and the Gorilla Foundation has correspondingly adjusted its focus to apply our interspecies communication research to raise awareness about the need for gorilla conservation and optimal captive care — as relfected in the following Top Initiatives.
Help Koko establish an expanded family, via adoption, so that she can raise a gorilla baby, and transmit both her language, and her influence as an ambassador for her species — creating a self-perpetuating process to ensure there is always a native spokesperson for gorillas and other endangered great apes, to sustain interspecies empathy.. KokoQuest includes the continuous updating and refining of our gorilla care practices, utilizing two-way communication as a tool, so that we can better manage, monitor and learn from Koko's current and expanded gorilla family.
Build upon 4 decades of interspecies communication research, by analyzing the vast amount of multimedia data, and designing new experiments to learn even more about the cognitive and emotional lives of gorillas — and humans. Find new ways to integrate this research with gorilla care, to optimize captive care management via two-way communication.
ZEST is an acronymn for Zoo Educational and Signing Technology. KokoZEST is a multimedia database that can be used to educate humans and gorillas so that we can better communicate with our fellow great ape species. The prototype database is being used in-house and with selected volunteers and colleagues. We are seeking a corporate partner to scale and leverage KokoZEST into a web- (or cloud-) based product that allows millions to learn about what we do, and collaborate in real-time.
Archive decades of multimedia data from Project Koko, while it is still accessible, and enable all of the above aprojects to leverage the internet for sustainable long-term progress. This project includes digitizing (and thus protecting) several decades of videos, photos, art and handwritten text data (pre-2000) as well as cataloging all of our data in a conveniently structured and searchable database. One of the benefits of KokoArc is that it will allow us to look back in time and analyze (analog) data that is currently too volatile to be accessed.
Expand tthe modest, but meaningful, successes we have had in African Countries to educate and engender empathy about gorilla conservation — and help convert poachers to protectors. For example, we have recently been invited to contribute to a Cameroon-wide conservation curriculum, based on the success of a prototype curriculum that centers around the book Koko's Kitten (soon to be augmented by the book Michael's Dream). A second dimension of KokoAfrica is to support selected gorilla sanctuaries, and develop an "exchange program" in which bushmeat orphans (and their caregivers) can benefit from two-way communication too.
Develop the first tropical gorilla sanctuary outside Africa. This project, which was initiated in 1990 by a gift of 70 acres of leased land on Maui, is currently "on hold" until the successful completion of KokoQuest. Once we have expanded Koko's family, and developed a plan for supporting additional gorillas on Maui (where potentially hundreds of acres are available), KokoMaui can again become an active project. Gorilla sanctuaries outside of Africa are desperately needed — especially in the case that we are not able to save them in their homelands (a highly likely scenario, if you simply extrapolate the gorilla population numbers in Africa).
Michael was a male gorilla who grew up with Koko, and who passed away in the year 2000, at the age of 27. He was a gifted signer, artist, music lover and all-around extraordinary silverback gorilla, and he continues to be an inspiration to all of us to this day (for an introduction, see the video clip about Michael in KokoFlix, in which he describes his memory of his mother being killed by poachers in Africa). In this project, the Gorilla Foundation is working with a team of neuroscientists who are studying "Michael's brain." Togethe, we hope to understand why Michael's brain exhibits higher concentrations of a certain type of neuron that is associated with higher social awareness. The levels (i.e., density) of these neurons found in Michael's brain are higher than any other great ape specimen studied, and much closer to those found in humans. Was Michael's brain development affected by learning our sign language, by being encouraged to paint, by his traumatic first-hand experience with bushmeat, or he is just an anomaly?
The work of the Gorilla Foundation is supported primarily by donations from individuals, with some support from foundations, corporations, and educational product sales. The Foundation receives no support from government sources at this time.
|Who is Koko?
When Penny Patterson, a young graduate student in psychology at Stanford, first saw a tiny, undernourished baby gorilla named Hanabi-Ko at the San Francisco Zoo, she had little inkling that the sickly ape would become her constant companion - and the subject of the longest continuous experiment ever undertaken to teach language to another species. But within a year, Project Koko was underway, and in two weeks the gorilla was using correct signed gestures for food, drink, and more. Today, decades later, Koko - the world's most renowned gorilla - is drawing on a vocabulary of more than 1,000 words.
|Who is Penny?
Dr. Penny Patterson received a degree in Psychology at the University of Illinois and her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at Stanford. She is now President and Research Director of The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org, a member of the Board of Consultants at the Center for Cross Cultural Communication in Washington, D.C., and is the Editor-in-Chief of Gorilla, the journal of The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org.
Note: Psychology runs in the Patterson family: Penny's father, Dr. C.H. Patterson, who has been a key supporter and source of inspiration for Penny and TGF, is also a world-renowned professor and author in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy - see his insightful website.
|Who is Ron?|
Dr. Ron Cohn is the Co-Founder, Vice President and principal photo-video documentatarian for Project Koko. He is responsible for most of the visual content on the site!
TOP Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
BABY: Are Koko and
Ndume ever going to have a baby? What are the prospects for offspring?
VISITS: Is it possible to visit
Koko and Ndume at The Gorilla Foundation?
How old is Koko, and how long do gorillas typically live?
- MAUI APE
PRESERVE: What is the Maui Ape Preserve,
and why does Koko want to move there?
STATUS: What's happening with the Maui Ape Preserve?
(I don't see any recent progress on your website.)
What is the Gorilla
Foundation and what is its mission?
NewsLetters and/or Journals to members? I'm not receiving them!
As a donor, I'd like to know more about where my money is going?
How can people help
and the Gorilla Foundation?
of Gorillas: Are gorillas always calm?
do they ever get angry? how?
|Donate: Help us ensure the future of interspecies communication and of gorillas like Koko.|
|Shop at KokoMart: Koko books, videos, plush toys, gorilla art amd more.|
|Subscribe to KokoMail eNewsLetters: A good way to stay up to date and spread the word.|
|"Koko's WishList": In-kind donations, from toys to dvds to computers to equivpment|
|Volunteer: We can use help with Koko's food preparation, fulfillment and office tasks.|
|Work for the Gorilla Foundation: We have several job openings for dedicated self-starters.|
|Teach Your Children about Koko and Great Ape Conservation: Educators and parents.. . .|
|Make a Legacy Gift or Pledge: The next generation is depending on us to do the right thing.|
|Become a Major Donor or Corporate Sponsor: for the new Maui Ape Preserve|