Research/Care Blog

Koko Responds to 9-11 (Part 2)

Perhaps we can get along.

Date Added: 2001-11-28
While many people know that Koko is fluent in sign language, most aren't aware that she also understands a great deal of spoken English. So, when she overheard staff discussing the 9-11 tragedy, then later caught a minute of a Charlie Rose TV segment describing the incident, Koko became quite anxious. Here's an excerpt of our dialogue:

Penny: Why are you upset?
Koko Feel very sorry (then a big audible sigh).
Penny: Talk about the trouble?
Koko: Man cut-neck, know takeoff.

Koko's sign “cut-neck” was exactly the same as gorilla Michael's sign, when we asked him to describe what happened to his mother, who was poached when he was a baby in Africa. (You can see Michael signing this on video in the recent NATURE documentary “A Conversation with Koko.”)

Later, Koko signed “trouble” when she heard a low-flying plane overhead (we also have this on video).

Because of Koko's concern for our safety, and her extreme sensitivity to our emotional state (as well as what we say), the gorilla caregiver staff has been extra careful about what we discuss around her, what she views on TV, and our own attitudes about current events–they've been asked to remain positive.

We've also been giving her extra support–hugs, her favorite foods, a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration, followed by anticipation for another celebration in December. (This must sound familiar to those of you who are parents.)

Koko's empathy for us—another species—and ours for her, gives me hope for the future. More next month . . .

Penny

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