Research/Care Blog

Caregiver Corner: 'Who's Caring for Whom?' by Lucas and Laura

Koko Signs

Date Added: 2005-06-03
The recent rainy weather forced both gorillas to spend some extra time indoors. The following are two accounts, one with Koko and one with Ndume that describe how the gorillas passed the time while stuck inside. In Koko's responses, the pound symbol (#) after a word indicates that it is a vocalization by Koko; otherwise the word or phrase represents her response in American Sign Language. The kiss# vocalization is commonly used to get the caregiver’s attention.


Koko the Hostess, by Lucas Slavik
May 2, 2005

I enter Koko’s kitchen to spend the afternoon with her. Koko comes up to the steel mesh to greet and inspect me. Koko loves to get a thorough look at her visitors, checking their ears, hair, and teeth. Once satisfied with her inspection of me, Koko meticulously builds herself a nice comfortable nest of blankets and settles down for a nap.

Koko: Sleep there.
Lucas: Okay, it’s time for some rest and quiet.
Koko: Purr#.

I sit down on the floor. A few minutes pass.

Koko: Kiss#. Sleep.
Lucas: Yes, I know, I’m sleeping.

A few more minutes go by as Koko rests in her nest. I continue to sit on the floor. Koko looks up at me.

Koko. Kiss#. Sleep.
Lucas: Koko, what is it?
Koko: Kiss#. Sleep there.

Koko points to her closet where a pad and pillow are kept for the caregivers to sit on.

Lucas: Oh, you want me to use the pad and pillows don’t you?
Koko: Good.

I take out the pads and pillows and make myself a comfortable place to sit.

Koko: Purr#.
Lucas: Koko, that was very thoughtful of you.

Satisfied that I am now situated and comfortable, Koko relaxes and drifts off into a nap.


Ndume Plays Chase, by Laura Mullen
May 5, 2005:

On this rainy and foggy day I was hanging out with Ndume in his building. Like Koko’s building, it is divided into three rooms by steel mesh and gates, which we refer to as A, B and the kitchen. The rooms are in a row with the kitchen being the human area, which is next to the A room, followed by the B room. One of Ndume’s favorite games is “chase” in which he runs to his B window and then I run to the outside of the B window, and once I am there, he runs to the steel mesh at the kitchen, on the opposite side of his building. As soon as he is there, I run to the kitchen, poke my head in the door and then he runs back to the B window, to start the game again. I usually get tired from the game long before he does.

On this particular day Ndume picked up a rubber squeaky toy that I had given to him weeks before, and held it in his hand and squeaked it as we played. Ndume seemed to get some sort of pleasure from making a great deal of noise. Towards the end of our game, I came into the kitchen and Ndume was sitting in the middle of his floor with squeaky toy in hand and a big smile on his face. He then picked up the squeaky toy and started hitting it against his head. He started out doing it softly then realized that it made a slightly different squeak when pressed against the head. This seemed to excite him, so he started hitting faster and faster and with that the smile got bigger and bigger. “You are having a good time with that, buddy, aren’t you?” With that he popped up and we continued playing chase, squeaky toy in hand.

Ndume makes me laugh every day; he finds new ways to entertain me whenever I am with him. His silliness and playfulness always keep me amused throughout the day.


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