The gorila Koko can talk with humans
Close bond: Koko the gorilla and Penny Patterson
What’s more, Patterson claims that Koko can even talk about her feelings, expressing whether she is happy or sad.
The BBC producers’ job was made easier by the fact that Patterson’s life with Koko has been filmed at every step by Dr Ron Cohn, a fellow academic who met “definitely the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen” when they were both graduate students at San Francisco’s prestigious Stanford University.
Part scientific record and part home video, his 2,000 hours of archive footage chart the most dramatic moments of Patterson and Koko’s life together. The resulting film shows that what started out as a scientific experiment in 1971 evolved into something resembling a mother-daughter relationship – except the daughter weighs 300lb and has the strength of 10 men.
Patterson, 69, first had the idea of devoting her PhD project to teaching a gorilla to sign after reading an account of some other academics trying to do the same thing with a chimpanzee. Their work appeared to show that while apes do not have sufficient lip and tongue control to enable speech they do have the brainpower to master elements of American Sign Language.
Patterson’s first stop was San Francisco Zoo. When she initially asked to work with the infant Koko she was told the young gorilla could not be separated from its family group. But after Koko had to be moved to the zoo’s medical centre to be treated for an intestinal parasite the authorities agreed to have her hand-reared for fear she would be rejected if returned to the gorilla enclosure.
Koko started her life at San Francisco Zoo
Under Patterson’s tutelage Koko’s first words were “eat”, “drink” and “more” and the gorilla was soon picking up new words at a rate of one a month
Under Patterson’s tutelage Koko’s first words were “eat”, “drink” and “more” and the gorilla was soon picking up new words at a rate of one a month. The project almost ended after four years when a change of management at the zoo resulted in the new director demanding the return of its gorilla.
After an appeal to the mayor of San Francisco, Patterson was given the opportunity to buy Koko for about £8,500 on condition she could procure her a mate. A male gorilla called Michael was located in Vienna and, with the aid of a fundraising campaign, the crisis was averted.
Koko enjoyed her first brush with international fame in 1978 when a picture she took of herself in a mirror made the cover of National Geographic magazine. The very next year Patterson published her PhD thesis. It claimed that Koko knew 300 signs and could use them to convey deep and complex emotions.
This image taken by Koko in 1978 was run in the media around the world
While the media presented her study as a major breakthrough, many scientists were less convinced. Chief among the sceptics was Professor Herbert Terrace who had been involved in an attempt to teach sign language to a chimpanzee called Nim.
He concluded that while apes respond to prompts from their handlers in the expectation of treats as a reward they were incapable of meaningful communication. Terrace attacked Patterson’s findings in a magazine article, Why Koko Can’t Talk, above the subtitle, “The ape’s fooling most of the people, most of the time”.
He told the documentary makers: “I believe that Penny Paterson is an over-zealous mother who is very proud of her surrogate children and tends very much to project meanings onto those children that may not be apparent to another observer.”
Koko shares a drink with former National Geographic editor
Her cours in Stanford ends then, Patterson stats a war with an important crisis whren she and her gorillas were sent it outsite the campus. While she was ostracised by the academic system, Patterson win the confidence with the public and population, then she raised sufficient funds to relocate that gorilas paradise in Woodside. 25 miles next to their old place and house. In San Francisco South where koko live in a mobile home with strong walls and a big garden for the gorila
Over the years Kokos have more and more fame. When Patterson take care of kitten for her childless gorilla all the newspappers and magazines cross over the world with pictures