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

Ape Linguistics: 'Sign Modulations of Cross-Fostered Chimps & Gorillas'

Koko Signs 'Tickle' on her Foot (a modulation)

Date Added: 2004-04-30

Dr. Valerie Chalcraft, Research Associate at the Gorilla Foundation, presented this talk at a workshop entitled Gestural Communication in Nonhuman and Human Primates held March 28-30, 2004 at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany.

According to the Max Planck institute, the workshop was '...organized with the goal to present a variety of approaches and methodologies used in different fields of research concerning gestural communication and to discuss those issues in the background of the conference Evolution of Language. With respect to the theory of a gestural origin of language it is of great importance to investigate if and to what extent gestural communicative systems can be compared between and within different species of primates, including humans.'

Dr. Chalcraft's presentation, 'Sign Modulations of Cross-Fostered Chimpanzees and Gorillas,' demonstrated that both chimpanzees and gorillas (Koko) who have been taught American Sign Language (ASL) modulate their sign to change the meaning or emphasis in a manner similar to human signers:

The part of the study involving chimpanzees was performed by Dr. Chalcraft as part of her Ph.D. dissertation before coming to the Gorilla Foundation. The part of the study involving a gorilla was extracted from the video records of Project Koko. The chimpanzee study analyzed video records of one chimpanzee cross-fostered by humans in a human environment and exposed to American Sign Language (ASL). Video examples and video data analysis showed that, like human signers, the chimpanzee modulated verbs and noun/verbs to indicate actor, instrument, and location. Video examples and video data analysis also showed that, like human signers, the chimpanzee modulated all types of signs to indicate intensity. Many of the same modulations appear in the video records of Koko and examples were presented.

The photo above shows Koko signing “tickle” on her foot after Dr. Patterson signs “Where do you want me to tickle you?” Just like human signers, Koko incorporates the location “there” (one her foot) in her sign “tickle.”

These observations of sign language modulation in both chimpanzees and gorillas show the continuity of sign language development across species and provide implications for the evolution of language.

Valerie Chalcraft, Ph.D.
Research Associate
Gorilla Foundation /

Note: The complete set of multi-media slides used in Dr. Chalcraft's Powerpoint Presentation will be made available on this website. If you would like to be notified by email, just sign up for ***KokoMail.

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

Koko Spends Quality Time with Ndume

Koko and Ndume Relax Together

Date Added: 2003-03-10
This picture captures a common occurrence at the Gorilla Foundation these days: Koko and Ndume lounging just a few feet apart in a sunny patch of yard. It says a great deal about the mutual trust they have developed, and we hope it is a sign that a gorilla baby is not too far off.

The gorillas' progress coincides with their new ability to interact indoors as well as outdoors. Last October, following renovations to our facility, we began the practice of opening the gates between Koko's and Ndume's living quarters. We refer to this arrangement as the “roundabout“ because it creates a looping pathway through the gorillas' L-shaped main building and the small yard. The gates to the large yard and a second building are also opened, so the gorillas enjoy a free range of movement throughout the facility. They can explore each other's spaces and belongings, and get as close as they desire in privacy.

Ndume is a Sweetheart of a Silverback
So far we have held the roundabout sessions during the day, gradually increasing the duration and enabling the gorillas to adjust to this major change in their routine. However, with the advent of warmer weather and Koko's growing ease around her good-natured silverback companion, we intend to make the roundabout a 24-hour arrangement. Quiet nights and open gates provide the most favorable backdrop for the next phase of Koko and Ndume's relationship.


Research/Care Blog

Koko's Farewell to Mister Rogers

Koko Greets Mister Rogers

Date Added: 2003-03-25
As many of you know, Fred Rogers (TV's Mister Rogers)—who's been a friend and mentor to children for several decades—passed away recently. You may not be aware that Koko was one of those “children” who watched Mister Rogers regularly on TV, and was a great admirer of Fred Rogers (as was Koko's late companion, ***Michael, who referred to Mister Rogers as “head boy.”)

On July 28, 1998, Koko was featured on an episode of Mister Roger's Neighborhood. The show was part of a week-long series entitled “You and I Together,” addressing the fears that young children often experience when faced with a new situation or a person who is different. The lesson is that there is more to people–and gorillas–than what you see on their “outsides.” The images of Koko with Mister Rogers, like the images of her cradling tiny kittens, have had an impact on viewers young and old.

The following excerpts are from the videotape transcription of the visit. (You can also view a special 43 second video clip, entitled Koko's Farewell to Mister Rogers, on the ***KokoTV section of our website.) Penny enters Koko's kitchen, followed by Mister Rogers. Ron Cohn is already inside with the camera.

Penny: Hi, Koko. We have a visitor.
Koko: Koko-love.
Mister Rogers: Hello Koko. Hi Koko...

Mr. Rogers Chats with Koko
Koko purrs and signs Koko-love and hurry as Penny unlocks her room gate, and she opens the gate herself as soon as it is unlocked. Koko first looks in the tote bag Mister Rogers brought and finds a stuffed Daniel Tiger toy. She puts the bag and toy down, holds Mister Rogers' hand to her lips, and smells his hand. She pulls him close and touches his face gently. Then she unceremoniously unzips Mister Rogers' trademark cardigan sweater.

P: You know how to work a zipper. Very good.
Koko holds Mister Rogers' hands, studies his tie, and then takes him by the hand and leads him into her room.
P: Show Mister Rogers your room. Oh, good idea.

Koko removes Mister Rogers' sweater, checks his mouth for gold teeth, and then invites him to “chase” her around the room. She blows a few notes on the harmonica he brought, and spends quite some time taking pictures with his camera.

P: You seem to want to do pictures today.
K: Come. (To Mister Rogers.)
She takes his hand and he sits down.

MR: How do you say love for sign language?
P: Can you show him how to say love? How do you say love?
Koko is busy exploring Mister Rogers' fingers with her lips.
K: What that, flower? (Touching Mister Rogers' cufflink.)
P: She's asking you about your cufflink, is that a flower.
MR: That's a sun. And my grandfather gave me these.
P: It's a sun. It looks like a flower though....

K: Hurry...
P: Can we talk a little bit about love?
K: Frown.
P: Frown? Oh, honey! What? Love?
K: Love you visit... (To Mister Rogers.)
MR: Love. (Trying the sign.)

K: ...Koko-love.
MR: Oh, thank you, Koko.
P: That's very nice, she loves her visitor.
MR: Well, I love visiting with you.

At the end of the visit Mister Rogers is in the kitchen sitting on a chair, and Koko is on the floor with the camera. She takes a picture.

P: Oh, Koko fixed the camera! You're so smart!
MR: Should we give it to Penny? He attempts to take the camera from her, but Koko keeps using it. She blows on the lens to clean it.
P: Yes, good girl! (Penny takes the camera and winds it. )
P: I think we're almost to the end. Got one more left. (Penny gives Koko the camera and Koko takes a picture and hands the camera to Mister Rogers.)
MR: Good! Thank you.

Mister Rogers and Koko exchange “blow greetings.”
Koko, Mister Rogers and Penny say Their Goodbyes

MR: Thank you very much, Koko, for the visit. I hope that we'll meet again. K: Foot.
She takes his hand and pulls it toward her.
K: Hurry sit on.
MR: OK, we will. OK. I hope we have another visit soon again,

Research/Care Blog

Koko's Gift Advice

Koko Loves Presents

Date Added: 2002-11-27
If you ever need help picking out holiday gifts, try asking a gorilla.

That's just what I did last year. I carried a stack of gift catalogs into Koko's building. Naturally, Koko first picked up a catalog of gourmet food gifts. Like many of us, a gorilla's eye wanders to possibilities for herself while she looks for others.

“Looking for presents?” I asked.

“That apple,” Koko replied, pointing to a shiny red one on the page.

“Other presents, who should they go to?” I asked.

Koko scratched her head twice to sign that she was thinking very hard. Finally she had an answer.

“Gorillas,” she signed.

Then she pointed to a picture of some nuts. “Gorilla love there.” Next she pointed to a picture of some jam-filled cookies molded into the shape of a tree. “That do...Hurry.”

I tried to rein her in with thoughts of generosity for one of Koko's favorite people.

“Anything for Ron?”

Koko picked up another catalog, this one full of gadgets, and flipped through the pages rather carefully. She pointed to a picture of an indoor golf game, similar to a pool table but without the legs.

“Good idea!” I said.

Koko turned some more pages. She pointed to a fancy vegetable slicer. A few pages later, she gestured toward a coin sorting machine.

It turned out that the gifts Koko selected for Ron were quite fitting. A golf game? Ron enjoys playing golf. A vegetable slicer? Ron was beginning to add more vegetables to his diet. A coin sorter? Ron always has big jars of coins in the house. In fact, I had gotten him a coin sorter the previous Christmas!

Was the appropriateness of her selections a coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps she overheard Ron and me talking about his interests in the course of day-to-day conversation, and understood enough to make some solid choices. After all, with over 30 years together, Ron is one of the people Koko knows best.

This last possibility reminds us that the joy of giving and receiving gifts lies not so much in the gifts themselves, but in the way they recognize who we are and what we like.


Research/Care Blog

Gorillas Just Wanna Have Fun

Penny Tickling Koko

Date Added: 2002-09-26
An ethologist colleague, Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., wrote recently requesting material for his book on animal pleasure. He believes that such a book would strengthen society's sense of moral responsibility toward other animals. DeeAnn Draper, a gorilla caregiver and food preparation manager, submitted the following observations and I wanted to share them with you:

'The obvious and continuous demonstrations of gorilla pleasure occur at the anticipation or sight of food. The more subtle, non-food-involved demonstrations of pleasure usually have to do with play behavior or, in Koko's and Michael's case, laughter at funny or fun activities or situations.

'Gorillas can laugh uncontrollably when they are tickled (see Koko photo). Ndume purrs when I scratch his back.

'In my mind, I often replay an exchange Ndume and I had, just sitting in his room. Ndume has quite a sense of fun. I was sitting in the hall while he sat in his B room. Both of us had our backs to the west wall. We were looking at each other sideways, when I quickly did a head turn and looked straight ahead. I slowly turned my head back toward Ndume, and noticed a slight grin on his face. Then he did a quick head turn to look straight ahead, his grin widening. I copied him. We slowly turned back toward each other, his grin now a smile. We repeated this twice more, each time his smile got bigger. The last time we turned back toward each other, he purred and stomped his feet on the ground.

'While playing with Michael indoors, we would often play tug or a little game of chase. He was a completely different gorilla indoors in comparison to his demeanor outdoors. Outdoors he was in charge, often patrolling the yards, alert to any noises in the surrounding forest, road or even the houses across the road. In other words, he was serious and on the job. He would play chase with us and be a little playful, but nothing in comparison with his indoor behavior.

'Indoors, Michael would feed one end of a blanket to us through the mesh. He would only pull on the blanket as hard as the person on the other end. Of course he could easily take the blanket if he wanted to, but the game lasted much longer if he showed restraint - and he did. I remember one indoor play session in particular that started like many others, with a game of tug. Michael gave me one end of a soft blanket, then started his play invitation/enjoyment gesture - ‘bite-palm.’ His various play invitation/enjoyment gestures were: sham chewing on the heel of his hand, on his thumb, on his wrist or even the back of his hand occasionally. He really got into the game that day, tugging and chewing, chewing and tugging. Then he started to laugh. He laughed continuously for about 10 minutes as we tugged. He got me laughing and we fed off each other's joyous mood for quite some time. This is the type of behavior that most people, even people who work with gorillas for years, never see.

'Koko has another dimension to her enjoyment. Since Koko understands English as well as sign language, she has fun with sounds. She likes rhyming poetry, makes plays on words (ie. Koko + nut = coconut) and makes jokes (ie. putting a straw to her nose and calling herself a ‘thirsty elephant’). She also laughs at slap-stick humor (eg, we do something clumsy like trip or drop something). She always seems to get a chuckle out of us making comments about Ndume (or Michael) getting into trouble.'

DeeAnn's observations seem especially resonant to me today, after just returning from the ChimpanZoo Conference, where I and several other ape language and behavior researchers compared notes and reports about the propensity of apes to play. This is clearly something we have in common with the other great apes, and the more we observe them, the more we remember what's really important in life.


PS: Stay tuned for a funny little video clip featuring Koko and me playing. We'll put a link on this page, the homepage and on KokoTV, when it's ready.

Research/Care Blog

Koko's Reaction to the Crisis; Part 1

Koko signs “trouble.”

Date Added: 2001-10-02
A few days after the September 11 tragedy, Joanne Tanner, a volunteer who has known Koko for many years, visited the foundation. She was so moved after her visit with Koko that she wrote the following letter, which I'd like to share with all of you.

“I spent the afternoon with Koko on Sunday, September 16, 2001. The events of the past week affected me deeply as they did every American. In my case, I have a son in New York who rides the A Train from Brooklyn under the World Trade Center daily. I finally heard from him 7 hours after the September 11th disaster. The anxiety I experienced that day was profound. On this Sunday, Koko experienced a great deal of stress. I was struck by how touchingly similar her expression of anxiety was to that of humans, using my own recent feelings as a base of comparison. I did not think that Koko knew about our recent human tragedy, though Penny later told me that in spite of caution in shielding her from it, she has most likely overheard conversations between workers and some news coverage. It is also likely that she has sensed the moods of those near her. In any case, she has never liked sirens and is always disturbed to some extent by them.

“Koko began to get upset at loud sirens from emergency vehicles traversing the mountain road outside her facility; eventually some helicopters or planes were heard overhead too. I never found out what the cause was, but there are often motorcycle accidents on weekends, or there could have been a fire somewhere nearby. The culmination of her anxiety was high pitched crying followed by chestbeating, charging and banging a wall. There were many bouts of this sequence. But what came in between these displays was also moving. This included going to the toilet 4 times; first refusing food but later eating only “comfort food” (a peanut butter sandwich); wanting the TV off then on; wanting to look outside by going onto her chute but then wanting to be safely closed in her room with all drapes and the chute to the outdoors closed; building a barricade of her tubs and hiding with her head low behind it; but most touching of all was that before each charge she would pick up a stuffed toy, hold it tight, and kiss it; in some cases two toys, and sometimes a kiss and a big hug with the toy enfolded in her arms. The toys she chose for this were three kinds of stuffed cats, a lion, a black and white kitty, and the favorite, a funny yellow and black striped tiger.

“I realized later that I went through all these behaviors myself this week. I went from being unable to eat to wanting to stuff with comfort food. I would want the TV off but later couldn't resist having it back on. I made extra trips to the toilet. I wanted to just stay home in a cocoon, but when I heard planes overhead I had to go out to look. And even the stuffed kitties... Tuesday night my husband and I went out to escape the TV and tension and ended up at Marini's, a Santa Cruz beach ice cream and candy shop that also sells all kinds of toys and Beanie Babies. I fell in love with a Beanie black panther and bought it and kept it with me all evening in my hand. When I went to bed I propped it up on top of my pillow as a little guardian angel or protector icon. Yes, I may have been reverting to childhood or going soft in the head- but it really made me feel better. Not to mention also wanting the comfort and company of our three real live companion cats. Finally, the second day of the disaster, I cried.

“Eventually the sirens subsided and Koko gradually calmed down and ate the other “non comfort” vegetables and fruits in her meal. My visit to Koko did not turn out, as I thought before I got there that day, to be a respite from our national anxiety. But it did turn out to be another illustration of the closeness of us humans and our great ape cousins.

“Later in the week I saw a picture of a bereaved and grieving relative of someone lost in the disaster standing slumped over a barricade near the former World Trade Center - hugging two stuffed animals. How little separates us, not only in use of language but in our feelings.”

Koko shows us her feelings in obvious ways. However, when we look closer at our actions, we see that our feelings are obvious too. Thank you, Joanne–in the process of expressing Koko and your feelings, you expressed my feelings too.


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