Research/Care Blog

Koko Makes a Halloween Mask

Koko's Halloween Mask (“Eye Hat”)

Date Added: 2002-10-30
Occasionally, members write to us concerned that some of the things that Koko and Ndume do, such as donning whimsical headdresses, subtract from their dignity. Both gorillas, especially Koko are highly perceptive of, and responsive to, holiday traditions much as human children are, and want to participate. As Halloween was approaching one year, Koko actually fashioned a mask (without any prompting at all) from a gayly colored sheet of paper by carefully making eyeholes. Then, holding it up to her face, she used it to scare her human companion by charging over to her thus disguised. Such object use by the gorillas is a reflection of their creativity, playfulness and complex psychological makeup as gorilla persons.

Koko with Lei, Penny with Cat Costume
Recently, from a bag of costume accessories, Ron selected and wore a black feather boa, and Koko a flowered lei. I donned a cat mask, and meowed asking Koko “Who am I?” She steadfastly ignored my question, so we went about our play.

I showed Koko some fake cat whiskers, mentioning that the attachment was too tight to be placed on her nose, and put them to my ear suggesting use as an earring. As the videotape rolled, and I looked away from Koko, she signed “Cat that that” first to my black mask, then to the cat whiskers she tucked fashionably over her right ear.

It's amazing how much we would miss about Koko if it weren't for video technology, which allows us to catch her signing side comments to herself and the camera. We should definitely use more of this technology in the future, especially at the Maui Sanctuary, to record our research from multiple angles and share it with other researchers and educators via the internet.

Penny

PS: See Koko being really silly and intelligent at the same time, on our new version of ***KokoTV.


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