Adapted from: Animals Who Have Won Our Hearts, by Jean Craighead George

Koko is a gorilla who learned sign language and taught her human family about gorillas and their feelings.

Koko learned to sign hundreds of words! When she first signed the word for ‘food’ to Francine Patterson, the woman who took care of her, and Francine gave her food, Koko was so happy that she put a bucket over her head and ran around wildly.

Koko could easily learn the words for things she liked but was not as eager to learn words for things she didn’t. For example, it took her two months to learn the word for ‘egg’ which she hated, and only one minute to learn ‘berry’ which she loved.

Koko has a great sense of humour. When asked the colour of her white towel over and over again, she eventually got bored and signed the word ‘red’. When asked again, she replied ‘red’ twice more! Then she carefully picked a piece of red thread off the towel and laughed, saying ‘red’ again.

Koko recognises herself in the mirror, carefully cleans her room, and plays with her companion animals. She was so sad when her cat died that she was allowed to choose another kitten. She takes care of this kitten with gentleness and love.

Koko also tells people what and whom she doesn’t like. When she is really angry with a person she calls them a “rotten toilet”. She has a younger gorilla friend named Mike whom she calls “Mike nut” when she feels jealous. One of her teachers, Ron Crohn, punished her when she misbehaved. She called him “stupid devil devilhead”.

Eventually Francine Patterson realised that gorillas like Koko and Mike should live where they can be their natural gorilla selves. They all moved out to the country where Koko and Mike could climb fruit trees and play in a huge outside area.

Koko signed her thoughts about herself and her species when she said, “fine animal gorilla.”

• Gorillas and their human families are not the only ones who use sign language. Can you name any other groups of people who might use it too?
• How many ways do you know to communicate without speaking?
• In how many languages can you say “thank you”?
• How do you communicate with your companion animal and how does he or she communicate with you?

Gorillas are an endangered species.
Use reference material to find out more about gorillas.

1. Where do they live?
2. What do they eat?
3. Why are they in danger?

In how many ways are you and Koko similar? Fill in the chart with the things that Koko needs to live and likes to do, as well as the things you need to live and like to do. Some sections have been filled in already to help you complete the chart.

Eats fruit and vegetables
Enjoys telling jokes
Likes to keep warm
Enjoys playing with a friend
Sleeps when tired
Enjoys cleaning her room

From the chart, make a list of similarities and a list of differences between you and Koko.
Which list is longer?