Gorillas have a word for it
Kokois the first gorilla to have been taught sign language (a way of communicating by using hands and fingers rather than speech). With a vocabulary of more than1000 words, she is the first to prove we share a world with other intelligent beings who feel emotions, look forward to celebrations and also have a sense of humour.
The 30-year study of Koko has redefined science's concept of gorilla intelligence. 46 ________ But what had not been recognized by the scientific community was that gorillas have the ability to learn a language and have complex emotions.
Koko lives in the Santa Cruz mountains in North America, in a wooded spot overlooking a valley. 47 ________ She has a barrel on which she likes to sit when 'talking' to humans - gorillas feel more secure when they can look down on others - while her toys are spread everywhere. In addition she has an outside enclosure where she spends her days when it is not raining.
It is her conversations with her teacher, Dr Penny Patterson, that are inspiring. Penny explains: ‘The reality of my discovery is that our abilities as humans, our skills, sensibilities and emotions are very similar to the great apes. 48 _________
When she began teaching Koko sign language, placing the little fingers of the one-year-old gorilla into the correct positions for 'drink', 'eat', 'more', and rewarding her with food, Dr Patterson had no idea how quickly Koko would learn. “At first, it seemed Koko was using sign language as a tool to get something,” says Patterson. 'It became the kind of reward system that you could expect of a cat or a dog. But early in her training, she began to combine signs that made me think she was capable of more.’ 49 __________ For example, she didn't know the word for 'ring', so she combined the signs for ‘finger’ and 'bracelet' to express it.
Dr Patterson continues: ‘Koko loves babies and young people. And when she is asked what gorillas like best, she always says "Gorilla love eat, good’’.' One of Patterson's favourite stories demonstrates Koko's sense of humour. 50 _________
When Patterson asked her what she would like for her 11th birthday, Koko signed that she wanted a cat. The story of Koko’s cat enabled Patterson to learn more about her student: the cat was hit by a car and Patterson had to break the news to Koko, who signed 'cry, sad, frown'. Then, once alone, Patterson heard Koko make the gorilla's distress call: a loud series of hoots.
From the age of three, Koko shared her accommodation with Michael who was intended as a mate. However, Michael died suddenly two years ago of a heart attack. ‘Koko went into a depression following Michael's death,’ says Patterson. ‘She would sit for hours with her head hung low looking upset.'
Dr Patterson asked her if she was looking forward to moving to Hawaii, where Patterson is raising money to build a gorilla refuge. Koko signed ‘Yes', provided she could have curtains in her new home!