Research/Care Blog

Michael: Dialogue with a Silverback

Michael, Pensive

Date Added: 2001-03-04
As this is the birthday month of Michael (3/17/72-4/19/00)—the majestic silverback who grew up with Koko, spoke with us in American Sign Language, and left us with a collection of exquisite paintings and beautiful memories—I'd like to share a few of our conversations with Michael in this Journal entry. In these particular dialogues, Michael tells us how he felt about people and a new habitat.

December 1981
Caregiver: What do you think of the new play yard?
Michael: Out good gorilla happy.

March 1985
Koko relaxes in the outdoor play yard and refuses to go inside. Michael observes her through the window of his indoor facility.
Michael: Koko love out.

Sep. 1985
Caregiver: How do you feel when you go outside?
Michael: Gorilla smile. Love eat apple. (Apple trees grow in and next to the yard.)

October 1985 Caregiver : What do you think about visitors?
Michael: Chase chase squash hit-in-mouth.

June 1989 Caregiver ny: do you like meeting new people?
Michael: Stupid no-good.

In contrast, note Koko's response to a similar line of questioning by me:

May 1984 Penny: What sort of visitors do you like?
Koko: Koko love Tyler. (Michael's male caregiver.)
Penny: What sort of visitors don't you like?
Koko: Visitor dirty curious.
Penny: Don't like visitors that ask a lot of questions?
Koko: Frown bad.
Penny: They're interested, they want to find out about you.
Koko: Lip (“woman”) insult.
Penny: Like it better if they don't ask a lot of questions?
Koko: Gorilla love.

In the above conversations the gorillas are telling us (in our own words) that they have clear preferences about how they like to be treated and how they like to live. Koko, a female, likes certain humans to visit, as long as they don't ask a lot of questions. Michael, the dominant male, does not like human visitors at all. Both Koko and Michael love the outdoors, and would probably play outside all day long if the Northern California weather permitted.

Such insights have led us to design the Sanctuary at the new Maui Preserve with extremely large and private outdoor spaces, optional indoor spaces, and video-based communication pagodas that limit intrusion from the outside world, while continuing to raise public awareness about the need to create more sanctuaries (see this month's Maui Update for a closer look at this design).

I only wish that Michael had survived long enough to enjoy his future home with Koko and Ndume. However, Michael's memory will always be with us, inspiring us to move forward with our plans and dreams. We will be sharing more of Michael's life, times and inspiration in an upcoming book, “Michael's Dream.”

Penny


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