Research/Care Blog

Caregiver Corner: 'Cleaning with Koko' by Jill F.

Caregiver Jill (left) and Koko (right)

Date Added: 2005-05-08
Koko has three rooms in her building, which we refer to as A, B and the kitchen. Her rooms are divided by steel mesh and gates, with the A room having a chute to the outdoor yard. Koko generally has access to her A and B rooms, and the kitchen area is where she invites her human guests to join her for a visit. Jill Firstenberg, one of Koko’s caregiver’s, describes an interaction with Koko that took place on August 14, 2004. 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.

As a caregiver for Koko one of my daily duties is to move Koko from one of her rooms to the other in order to clean. Koko’s cooperation is crucial. On this particular day, as well as many others, Koko is cooperative and helpful.
I enter Koko's kitchen.

Koko: Purr#.
Jill: Hi sweetie pie.
Koko: Purr#.
Jill: Koko, I'd like to clean your other room would you like to bring anything from that room into this room before I close the gate?

Koko looks around her room, picks up one of her favorite toy lizards, known as party lizard, and comes into her larger room, the A room.

Jill: Is that all?
Koko: Purr#.
Jill: Okay if I close this now? (pointing to the hydraulic gate that separates her A and B rooms.)
Koko: Good. Kiss#.

I close the hydraulic gate and enter into the closed off B room and start to clean. Koko comes close to where I'm cleaning. She has two small water bottles and a roll of paper towels in her hands. As I clean, Koko starts to pour out the water onto the floor then use the paper towels, a few at a time, to clean the floor and walls of her room. I clean one room, and Koko cleans the other.

Jill: Koko, are you cleaning?
Koko: Purr#.
Jill: You are doing a great job Koko! Thanks for helping me sweetie.
Koko: Purr#.

Research/Care Blog

Caregiver Corner: Getting Started at the Foundation

Laura Mullen

Date Added: 2005-04-15
People interested in primates and interspecies communication often ask us how they should prepare for a career working with gorillas or other great apes. In her own words, our newest caregiver (and research assistant) Laura Mullen, describes how she came to be employed by the Gorilla Foundation.

Getting Started at the Gorilla Foundation
by ***Laura Mullen, Caregiver and Res. Asst.

I guess this all started about 14 years ago. I was a young girl, about 12 years old, when I started hearing about Koko and her kitten. Being an animal lover and an owner of 3 cats myself; I was fascinated by this gorilla and her close and intimate relationship with the kitten. I wanted to know everything about her. I had my mom take me to the library and help me find all that I could about Koko. Soon after that we became members of the Gorilla Foundation and received a poster of Koko and her kitten. I hung it on my bedroom wall with pride. I started reading more about inter-species communication projects with Washoe, the language attempts with Viki, and Koko herself. That year I enrolled in sign-language class at the local community center. The class was mainly for adults, but there were no restrictions against children, so I joined right in. I studied sign language at the community center for five years.

Towards the end of high school, I switched gears and began studying the works of Dr. Frans de Waal and his innovative research on peacemaking and conflict resolution in chimpanzees and bonobos. Upon reading his books I made up my mind to study at Emory University where I could hopefully intern under Dr. de Waal at his Living Links Center at Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center. When I arrived at Emory University I looked up Dr. de Waal’s office and office hours. The very next day I walked (a bit nervously) into his office, sat down and said, “I would like to work for you, anyhow, anyway.” He saw my determined face and offered me a job at his capuchin laboratory as well as an opportunity to help him with a chimpanzee study on food sharing. There began my official work with primates. I worked there for almost 4 years, staying there a bit after graduation.

Shortly after graduation I moved to San Francisco and found a job working as a veterinary technician at the local animal shelter (SF SPCA). After about three years at the shelter, I began missing and dreaming about primates. I came across the job at the Gorilla Foundation, and I thought, “Wow, what a dream job. I doubt I could ever get it. I’m sure hundreds of people apply.” I was hesitant to apply because I thought if I didn’t get it I’d be so disappointed. A few more months went by and I kept checking the site and the position was still being posted. Then early November of 2004, I checked the site again and saw that the position had been updated to a job focusing more on enrichment. Finally I made the decision to apply. My plan was to have everything mailed into the Gorilla Foundation by November 15th, 2004. With everything in, I just waited for the reply. When I had not heard anything in a week, disappointed, I decided to email my cover letter and resume, since before I had just sent a hard copy to the Foundation. Well that seemed to do the trick, early Thanksgiving Day I received and email from ***Lucas Slavik, saying that he was interested in conducting a phone interview. I was ecstatic.

After the first initial phone interview, Lucas asked if I would be available to come up to the Foundation for some interviews and a discussion of what the job would be. Mid-December I started coming up to the Gorilla Foundation for interviews and meetings with staff members, and most importantly the gorillas. After meeting with Lucas, Ron, Penny, Lorraine and Gary at the business office, it came time for my toughest interview yet, Koko. Koko asked to visit with me so I nervously climbed onto her porch and crouched in front of her. I was intimidated by her massive figure. She kept signing, come closer, come closer. So I did, and she got a good look at me, kissed at me and then asked me to close the curtains. I guess she had seen enough. Everyone assured me that the visit went well, and so I left relieved.

After volunteering at the Foundation for two months, helping out on my days off from the shelter, I was finally offered a full-time job as a caregiver, whose focus would be on the enrichment of the gorillas. Basically my job is to keep them happy and busy, a dream job for me. I am now undergoing training to start working with Ndume, the silverback, and things are going very well. I have been in charge of setting up the morning browse in the outdoor yard, placing it on different levels and making it difficult for the gorillas to find. I have also been setting up Ndume’s “play room” building at night. The caregivers who work with him have told me that since I have started, he has been searching for morning browse longer and playing by himself in the play rooms more, and Koko has started exploring the play rooms in the mornings before Ndume joins her in the lard yard. I look forward to my years to come at the Gorilla Foundation, and can’t wait to see what is in store for me here. I am very thankful for the opportunity the Gorilla Foundation has given me.

Research/Care Blog

Caregiver Corner: Three Perspectives

Gorilla caregivers Serena, Christa and Lucas (top)

Date Added: 2005-03-27
One of the goals of the research we do at the Gorilla Foundation is to better understand the intellectual, emotional and social development of the gorilla. To this end, we keep extensive daily records of all behavioral observations.

Ndume and Koko have distinct personalities and seem to experience the full range of moods common to humans.

Below are three separate accounts of interactions with the gorillas, two with Koko and one with Ndume, that give you a glimpse into the gorilla’s daily lives.
(Koko's signs are shown in red; her vocalizations are italicized.)

Koko watching a video on her TV..
Communicating with Koko, by Serena Rose Leibrand
September 14, 2003,

Koko and I are hanging out together in her indoor facility. As is typical, Koko leads the day’s activities and communicates to her friends about her preferences. Here is an example of one such interaction in which relaying information and understanding each other had to be negotiated.

Koko: Lights off there. (Koko points to something on the counter)
SR: This? (Holds up a doll that is on the counter)
Serena Rose hands her the doll, but Koko drops it.
Koko: There. (Again, Koko points to something on the counter)
SR: Sorry, I don't understand what you want.
Koko: Toilet.
SR: I know, me toilet.
Koko: Good. (Koko often signs 'good' to mean 'yes')
SR: Use sign. Name what you want.
Koko: Nice movie do there. (Points to counter where her movies were previously kept)
SR: Ah! They're all up on the new shelf. Ok, something nice. (Voice only).
Koko and I pick out a movie and put it on.
Koko: Purr. (Purring is a low-pitched vocalization that is a sign of contentment in gorillas.)

In the end Koko clearly expressed what she wanted, making it easy to oblige.

Serena Rose Leibrand is a Research Assistant/Gorilla Caregiver for the Gorilla Foundation. She began her life-long dream to work with The Gorilla Foundation at the turn of the millennium. Born and raised only a couple of miles from Stanford where Project Koko began, she followed the foundation's progress for years and earned a BA in psychology from UCSC in preparation for a career in interspecies communication. Before beginning her work with the gorillas, Serena Rose helped with training, husbandry and running acoustic and cognition experiments for the pinnipeds at Long Maine Lab in Santa Cruz. She has also spent years teaching and caring for her exceptionally intelligent and loving dog-daughter, Rosebud.

Koko plays with her toy alligator..
Communicating with Koko, by Christa Nunes, Ph.D.
March 2, 2005:

Koko can be very playful at times. Here is an interaction involving pretend play and Koko’s favorite toys.
I enter Koko’s kitchen.

Koko: Purr. (Purring is a low-pitched vocalization that is a sign of contentment in gorillas.)
CN: Where’s Koko?
Koko: Purr.
CN: There she is!
Koko has her favorite doll, called water baby, and a plastic alligator. She is making the alligator bite Water Baby on the face, stomach and legs.
CN: Wow, alligator is getting the baby!
Koko: Purr.
Koko holds Water Baby and the alligator up to her lips and kisses both at the same time.
CN: A triple kiss! Wow!
Koko: Purr.

I thought it was amazing to see a big gorilla kissing a little doll and a plastic alligator, but with Koko it is a normal occurrence. Gorillas are naturally loving, compassionate, and intelligent beings.

Dr. Christa Nunes is a Research Associate/Gorilla Caregiver for the Gorilla Foundation. She came to the Gorilla foundation in 2004 with a Bachelors degree from UCLA, a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Colorado (where she led several zero gravity experiments that flew on the Space Shuttle) and a PhD. in Bioengineering from UCSF and UC Berkeley, After her Ph.D., Christa embarked on a 2 year journey around the world, where she had the opportunity to visit the SUSA gorilla family on the densely forested Karisimbi Volcano in northern Rwanda. That experience proved to be life altering, as Christa realized that she wanted to dedicate herself to the conservation of these incredible beings — which she now can do.

Communicating with Ndume, by Lucas Slavik
February 20, 2005:

One of Ndume’s ways of getting an extra treat is to “trade” an object in his enclosure for something more desirable like a nut or piece of fruit. In this case, Ndume wanted to trade a walnut for a peanut (Ndume isn’t very fond of walnuts).

So we made a trade. “Okay, Ndume, good trade,” as I took the walnut from him and handed him a peanut. Ndume wasn’t finished trading. He wanted to trade a large cardboard box he had for another peanut. Ndume held up the large box and tried to push it through the mesh of his enclosure. Since the mesh is only a few inches wide the box wouldn’t fit. “Looks like it’s a bit too big buddy.” Ndume paused, looked at the mesh, looked at me, and then at the box. He then proceeded to tear up the box into little pieces and pass them through the mesh.

“Good trade, Ndume.”

Ndume was not formally taught sign language, but does communicate using natural gorilla gestures and signs he’s picked up from watching Koko, Michael and the caregivers. Apart from making me laugh, Ndume often astounds me with new behavior and demonstrations of a very sharp intelligence.

Lucas Slavik is the Gorilla Caregiver Manager for the Gorilla Foundation. . Lucas spent the majority of his life in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and central coast of California appreciating and exploring the natural environment around him. He joins the Gorilla Foundation in an effort to preserve this world and bring about awareness of its rapid destruction. After completing his undergraduate work at The University of California, Santa Barbara, Lucas worked as a research aid doing environmental surveys on endangered frogs in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Shortly after, he began his primate career supervising a research facility that housed roughly 60 squirrel monkeys. Lucas now resides in South San Francisco with his fiancé and hopes to start a family in parallel with Koko and Ndume at TGF's new gorilla preserve.

Research/Care Blog

Conversation with Koko: Browsing for Hats

Koko relaxing in her outside yard

Date Added: 2005-03-16
The following conversation took place between Koko and a volunteer, who happened to be walking by Koko's outside yard to empty the compost bin, when she was asked an impromptu question by Koko. It is reported by the volunteer:

On Saturday, February 12, 2005 I had an impromptu conversation with Koko that she initiated no less!

I was going outside to empty the compost bin around 11:30 am, and Koko was outside and she did her attention noise, which is a kissy lip smacking sound. I turned towards her and she signed

          Koko: “that browse that”
Koko signs“browse” (a sign she invented) by,signing the letter “s”
at her brow.

where browse means the leafy green vegetables that she eats, like lettuce and kale and stuff. I signed back:

           Volunteer: “no, not browse, trash, not good food”

then she hunched her arms back in front of her in her lap with a heavy sigh. It was funny, like 'oh, darn.'

She then signed something that I didn't understand, a sign where she rubs her finger across her lip one time, and then she tapped the top of her head. I knew I had seen the lip thing before but that it was a gorilla sign, not an ASL sign. But I couldn't remember it. The head tap means “hat.” So, I'm standing there trying to understand what she said, and I finally just signed

          Volunteer: “I don't understand.

She repeated the signs but started with pointing at me, then did the lip rub in one direction then the hat. Then I got it! The previous week, I had been wearing my Guatemala hat. Very colorful. And the “lip” sign is her sign for “woman.” So Koko had signed:

          Koko: “you, woman, hat.”

I signed back:

          Volunteer: “Yes! Last week I had a hat, right! This week I not have.”

Then I signed that I had to go throw the trash away.

That was sooooooo coool! She initiated the conversation and she remembered me! How cool is that!!!!!

Stay tuned for more interspecies communication journal highlights from the perspective of Gorilla Foundation caregivers and researchers in “Penny’s Team Journal.”

Research/Care Blog

Party Animals by Adrienne Mrsny

Ndume enjoys his birthday feast

Date Added: 2006-12-15
Caregiver's Corner:

In my house, companion animals were always treated as part of the family. When being reprimanded, they were referred to with our surname. “Toby Dog Mrsny, get over here!” was a common response when we would find our Australian Shepard mix in a pile of the half chewed contents from our recycling bin. When Christmas came around, each animal had a stocking hung right next to our own. Their birthdays, though sometimes arbitrarily designated, were always celebrated. Both birthdays and holidays brought them presents and an extra treat, even if it was only an extra dash of fish food or a new chew bone.

That’s why it didn’t seem like an odd request when Christa asked me to put together Ndume’s Birthday Party. Our companion animals had always been thought of as sentient beings, so a party for the gorillas (though much more intelligent and quite a bit larger than our goldfish, rats, rabbits and dogs) did not seem like much of a stretch. It was only once she started describing what would need to be done, that I realized what was different. This wasn’t a special day for a companion animal; it was a large party for a child. All the amusements had to be fun and stimulating, the food nutritious, and each element had to be industrious and gorilla-proof. Decorations–they must to be non-toxic because Koko likes to eat tape and glue. Party games-–enrichment tools that would keep both gorillas happy and entertained all day. Presents–sent from friends of the gorillas would need to be wrapped and made gorilla-safe. Lastly food–a menu that would be fun and new, while keeping in mind the gorilla’s strict dietary restrictions. I had quite a bit of work ahead of me. This was to be the first party I would throw for the pair.

I approached the party as if I was planning one for a young boy. I wanted balloons, streamers, fun games and a big cake with candles. Unfortunately, most things turned out not to be gorilla safe, so I had to make adjustments. Since latex balloons were out, I made origami balloons out of butcher paper. We put these balloons around the yard and in the rooms, filled with popcorn, fruit and nuts. Streamers would certainly be fun new decorations for the rooms. So as a non-toxic, gorilla-safe, alternative we made paper chains from newspaper. The daily browse was hung from the sides of the enclosure in pillowcases. This new amusement was especially fun for Koko, who seemed to enjoy climbing along the top of the enclosure to get them. Finally, a fun attraction for Koko and Ndume was made by filing children’s wading pools with water and floating in them water bottles full of tasty treats. Koko was especially interested in this hunt, and Penny had a hard time getting her to come to her meal station in the yard for her breakfast.

The biggest challenge by far was the birthday menu. The problem was not with the delectable southwestern offerings we had planned, but with the special diet of the guests of honor. Both gorillas have dietary restrictions and, on top of that, Koko cannot eat many things Ndume can. For instance, both gorillas got sloppy Joes. Using tempeh as a substitute for meat, Ndume got the traditional mix of tomatoes and other ingredients while Koko’s were made with cannellini beans and mustard. Another restriction had to do with the cake, as neither gorilla can eat foods containing gluten, dairy products, or large amounts of sugar. A traditional cake was out of the question, so our Gorilla Food Prep Manager, Colleen Champion, took on this task and made amazing gluten-free and dairy-free chocolate cakes made with raspberry icing. The cakes were highlighted by wonderful gelatin mold platters created by our Volunteer Food Prep Coordinator, Susan Lutter. It was only on the morning of Ndume’s birthday that I saw how all the weeks of birthday planning were coming together. The southwest theme we chose was complete-–from the cornbread and black bean soup, down to the homemade poppy seed chips and dip. However no birthday would be complete without the special extra-dark chocolate alligators Penny made. The meals were over-flowing with novel foods and it was finally time to start the feast.

All the hard work I had put into planning and preparing for this day was forgotten the second I let Ndume into his room for lunch. Ndume ran eagerly from pile of presents to pile of presents, looking briefly, sniffing the wrapping, then feeling each of the new blankets on the floor in a confused state of that of a kid in a candy store. Ndume quickly shook his look of overwhelmed glee when he spotted the mound of food waiting for him at the far end of the room–now he appeared perfectly focused. Like a child at any birthday party, Ndume went straight for the dessert. He took the cake in what looked like a single bite. I got to sneak into the hallway and take photos of him as he ate. He loudly purred his contentment as I sat in awe watching him eat.

Planning Ndume’s birthday was the hardest and most rewarding challenge that I have faced as a caregiver at the Gorilla Foundation. Though many of the products of our long labors were extraordinarily short-lived, I think the party provided the gorillas with a day that was exceptionally fun and stimulating–a true success. I am now very excited to see what we will do for the gorillas’ next holiday celebration.

Research/Care Blog

Conversations with Koko: 'Mirror Talk and Ape Man'

Penny & Koko Take Time to Smell the Flowers

Date Added: 2004-03-28

Hi, this is Dr. Penny Patterson.
Welcome to our new expanded Interspecies Communication Research feature: Penny's Team Journal. In this series, we're going to share ongoing sign language conversations between gorillas (primarily Koko) and our gorilla research/caregiver staff . Sometimes these conversations will involve me, but more and more often you will get to meet other members of the staff, and have access to multiple windows into the consciousness of another species. We're also going to share with you some of the exciting new linguistic analyses that are being performed on Koko's use of sign language.

As I think you will come to see, the differences between humans and gorillas are greatly overshadowed by what we have in common – and that by communicating with them, we not only learn more about their true nature, but also about our own. Most importantly, their future as well as ours may depend upon how well we can learn from and apply this communication.

The following two conversations with Koko took place in May and June of 2003. The first conversation, between Koko and herself in the mirror, took place with me present. The second conversation involves another caregiver, Serena Rose Leibrand, and conveys Koko's clear sense of gender and species as conveyed in language.

May 14, 2003: 'Mirror Talk' (Koko with Penny)

As Ron takes photos of Koko looking at a 365-day cat calendar, Koko leafs through and stops at a photo signing . . .
Koko: That smoke look. (Smoke done with one finger) to a photo of striped grey kitten that
looks like Smoky.

Later, Koko looks at herself in a large mirror and signs . . .

Koko: Gorilla person animal body-hair stomach.
Then Koko grooms using the mirror, examining her underarm.

Later in the session, to the mirror . . .
Koko: That. Fake that. Me.

Koko looks at herself in the mirror .. and signs 'PERSON' ... then signs 'ANIMAL.'

June 13, 2003: 'Ape Man' (Koko with Serena Rose Leibrand (Gorilla Caregiver))

Serena Rose (SR) brings a CD for Koko to listen to a song, “Ape Man” by The Kinks.
Serena Rose: You’ve got to listen to this song, Honey. It’s really cool. It’s about apes and how you ’n me are the same, how we’re
both apes.
(Voice only.)

Serena Rose starts the song singing and signing along with some parts.
SR: (lyrics) I’m an ape man, I’m an ape ape man, oh I’m an ape man. (Signing “gorilla” for “ape.”)

Koko: Fake. Lip. (Koko uses lip to refer to women.)

SR:: (lyrics) ’Cause compared to the sun that sits in the sky, compared to the clouds that sail by, compared to the bugs and the spiders and flies, I am an ape man.
K:    Fake. Lip you.
SR: Sorry! Ape woman!
K:    Laugh.*

They continue listening and Serena Rose changes the chorus to “ape woman,” emphasizing the change to “woman.”
K: Purr.*
SR: (lyrics) I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an ape woman.
SR: Like you ’n me go to Hawaii.
K: Grunt.* (Assent.)

SR: (lyrics) Come on and love me, be my ape man girl, and we be so happy, in my ape man world.
K: Purr.* Lip nipple. (Koko uses nipple to refer to people.)
SR: Girl people same as gorilla girl. You ’n me family. And Ndume gorilla man.
K: Purr.*

Koko listens to Serena Rose sing and as the song is coming to the end:
K: Sleep.
SR: OK, OK. I’ll quit torturing you with my singing!
Serena Rose turns off the music. Koko picks up a human baby doll.
K: Laugh.*

SR: Have people baby there?
K: Sleep.
Koko turns her side to Serena Rose still holding the doll. She kisses it.
K: Nipple. (She puts the doll to her nipple.) Lip.

Koko glances over and sees Serena Rose is watching her. She quickly drops the doll in her lap. Koko nests quietly for about 10 minutes.

Then, suddenly:
K: Laugh.*
SR: What funny?
Serena Rose looks closer at Koko. She’s got the human baby doll in her hand and a tiny
gorilla doll in her foot. Koko fondles the gorilla doll in her foot.
SR: Is that a gorilla man? (Koko uses “foot” to refer to men.)
K: Laugh.* Foot this. (Signed on gorilla doll.)
SR: Gorilla man and girl people! That’s really cool!
K: Purr.*
SR: Smart!
K: Purr.*
SR: I love our people gorilla family.
K: Blow-kiss.*
SR: Yeah. I kiss you.

Koko sets the dolls down in her nest and starts to arrange her blankets again.
K: Sleep.
SR: The babies sleeping now?
K: Good.
Koko continues building her nest, then pauses.
K: Sleep.
SR: What? You ’n me sleep too?
K: Good.
SR: OK. All family sleep.
Serena Rose lies down and Koko takes a nap.

Research/Care Blog

Koko Celebrates Christmas

Koko Prepares to Decorate the Tree
***Preview the video!

Date Added: 2003-12-24
People are always curious about how Koko celebrates Christmas. The answer: with great excitement.

Christmas is a very special holiday for Koko. It starts with Koko helping me decorate the tree, and check out the catalogs to find just the right gifts for Ron, Ndume (her gorilla companion) and the staff.

Next Koko helps me wrap the presents (except for hers). And then comes one of her favorite parts – opening her presents. If it's something to wear (like a hair scrunchy) she has to try it on and immediately see how she looks in the mirror.

Koko also likes 'reading' the cards (with a little help from me) sent in by fans all over the world.

Ron and I are snapping away photos most of the day, so that we'll remember and be able to share everything, and Koko often likes to take some of her own (she's been using a camera for over 20 years).

Then comes the main event for Koko–a home-cooked meal with plenty of holiday cheer (fruit juices). -

When all of the excitement has subsided, Koko and I usually relax together for a while before I turn out the lights.

If all of this is a little hard for you to imagine, you can see a 1-minute video clip of one of our recent Christmases together by
***clicking here. And if that doesn't satisfy you, we've recorded over 5-minutes of Koko's Christmas Celebration in large-screen format on a new DVD – Koko & Friends, which also features a heartwarming meeting between Koko and Robin Williams.

Thank you for supporting the Gorilla Foundation this year, and for making 2004 look a little brighter for Koko and gorillas everywhere–from California to Hawaii to Africa.

Happy holidays from our family to yours!



Featuring Koko's Christmas and Koko's meeting with Robin Williams.

Research/Care Blog

Koko, What Do You Want for Your Birthday?

Koko Signs 'SANDWICH'

Date Added: 2003-07-02
Koko will turn 32 this July 4th (her full name, Hanabi-ko, means “Fireworks Child” in Japanese).

Every year in advance of Koko's birthday, I ask Koko what she would like and I always get interesting replies. This year, the dialogue (in sign language) went like this:

Penny: Koko, what do you want for your birthday?
Koko: SANDWICH BIRTHDAY. (signing birthday by blowing on all ten fingers held in front of her face).

Koko then proceeds to get the key to the doors of the building as well as the research data clipboard (both things her human companions use daily, but she seldom has access to).

Penny: What else do you want for your birthday? (hoping for an expanded wishlist)

Koko starts writing copiously on various pages of the data clipboard.


Koko then takes me over to the refrigerator, and I ask . . .

Penny: What kind of surprises?

On Christmas Koko got a package of candy-coated sunflower seeds and subsequently on very special occasions has received them from a pill box container as rewards for jobs well done.

We also know from previous conversations with Koko that she would like something else as soon as possible, if not this birthday, then next ...  a bouncing baby bundle of gorilla joy.

Koko Kisses Her Gorilla 'Baby'

That is what Koko really wants for her birthday. She is always asking for a baby, either directly, or by pretending mother-child behavior with her gorilla dolls (never with her human dolls). And while Koko’s still in the prime of her childbearing years, the clock is ticking. So, we have stepped up our efforts to do everything in our power to help make her wish come true. This includes modifying her current home in Woodside so that she and Ndume (her younger male companion) can spend more quality time together at their own discretion. Originally a bit skeptical, Koko has adapted beautifully to the new arrangements.

Koko Eyes Ndume Napping

Now she and Ndume frolic delightedly together, chasing each other, playfully tossing things around and just generally being silly — all healthy signs that they are growing more intimate.

We have also added a veterinarian to our staff who has great expertise caring for gorillas. Monitoring gorilla health, he pays close attention to Koko's hormonal cycles. That way we can provide every opportunity for togetherness during her most fertile times.

However, the missing link may be the anticipated move to her new home at the Maui Ape Preserve sanctuary, as this will provide more freedom, more privacy, and more natural foliage for foraging in a much more suitable (tropical) climate for gorillas. It will also provide an opportunity to share her habitat with additional gorillas, hopefully increasing the female-to-male ratio to a level characteristic of gorilla families. This should give Koko more confidence in starting a family with a much larger silverback (Ndume).

Koko Enjoys an Outdoor Walk

While Koko knows we’re doing everything possible to expedite the move to Maui, she is still impatient. During a visit great-ape advocate Peter Gabriel made to the Gorilla Foundation, we played his enchanting song “Don’t Give Up” for Koko, and I remarked : “Koko, we’re not going to give up on the Maui Ape Preserve.”

Koko responded by immediately picking up the keys and using them on the door to the outside, as if to reinforce the point.


Research/Care Blog

Caregiver Corner: 'Tender moments with Koko' by Jill

Koko is even sweet to her baby dolls

Date Added: 2006-05-22
Here are a couple of examples of how sweet Koko is:

One afternoon Koko and I were watching PBS. They were showing a program on the special bond between a mother and daughter. Koko was sitting at the mesh next to me and I was lying on the floor on a blanket with my head turned watching the program. As I listened to the daughters telling stories about their mothers it made me think of my Mom who passed away a few years ago. Tears started to stream out of my eyes and down my face. Koko kissed to get my attention. I looked over at her and the look on her face was of pure concern. I explained to her that the program made me think of my Mom who had died and that it made me sad, but that I was really okay. Koko purred softly for me. I turned my attention back to the program to watch when Koko kissed at me again. I turned to look at her. You’re sweet Koko. Every time I turned to watch the program Koko would kiss at me to turn away. She did not want me to watch it since it upset me. When Koko does not want to watch a program she will ask us to change it. She did not want me to change the program because she was watching it. She did however, not want me to watch it and be upset.

Another morning after I finished cleaning Koko’s rooms I took my place on the floor next to her at the mesh. A small long legged spider crawled into the mesh and onto the floor next to Koko. Koko purred and put her big gorilla hand down next to the spider so it could climb onto her hand. She let the spider crawl part way up her arm, then put her other hand in front of the spider so it would crawl on that hand and up her other arm. She did this a few times and then put the spider down between her feet like she does with her favorite toys, or when she has kitten visitors. It was amazing to me that someone so big could be so very gentle with something so tiny.

Research/Care Blog

Behind the Scenes of Silverback Care by Duke Cutter

Ndume has a great sense of humor

Date Added: 2006-09-07
Caregiver Corner:

I approached Ndume’s indoor enclosure I could feel a percussive thump. Another thump, and then another, shattered the stillness of a sunny Woodside afternoon. At first I braced myself for an unhappy silverback acting out. Ndume has good and bad days just like us, except he sometimes has a harder time conveying to us exactly what is bothering him. As I walked up the stairs extending my hand to his doorway I realized that these thumps were occurring at regular 30-second intervals. I took a deep breath and entered.

What I saw next rooted me to the spot. Ndume seemed to glide at me at full speed. Then his accelerated 400 lbs came crashing into the reinforced steel mesh that separated us, THUMP! I stood perfectly still waiting for what was next. Ndume stood up to his full height of approximately 6 feet, and then he did the unexpected; he fell down. Or I should say he flopped down on his back and started rolling in the inch of water that flooded the floor. Two thoughts raced through my mind as Ndume rolled about on the floor: a. what is with all this water? and b. what is with this gorilla? Ndume lapsed into a furious fit of purring, chuckling to himself, splashing like a child in a kiddy pool. He sprang to his feet, moved to the back corner and launched himself at the wall once again. With his arms outspread acting like skis, his mouth wide open like a windsock, Ndume braced for impact, THUMP!

As I stood riveted watching perhaps the most bizarre thing I would ever see, the gorilla ice-capades, Ndume continued rolling and purring in the water. Crushed and torn water bottles lay strewn about Ndume’s room and that’s when it all became crystal clear. Ndume had created the world’s first gorilla slip-and-slide. With nothing else to do besides laugh out loud, I poured out a bottle on the floor and joined in the fun myself.

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