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A Conversation With Koko

A New Home 1 | 2

For more than 30 years, as "A Conversation With Koko" shows, Dr. Francine "Penny" Patterson and her colleagues have learned a great deal about gorilla behavior and communication by observing their trio of apes at a 7-acre research facility in a California redwood forest. Today, however, the gorillas may have outgrown their home, and Patterson hopes to move them to more spacious quarters.

Koko may soon have a larger home.
"It's long been one of our goals to put the gorillas in a place that is more like their native African habitat," says Kevin Connelly of the Gorilla Foundation, which cares for Koko and raises funds for Patterson's research. Koko, he notes, is a western lowland gorilla, one of the three types of endangered gorillas found in central Africa. The rarest, the mountain gorilla, is not kept in captivity and numbers fewer than 600 in the wild. In contrast, there are about 5,000 eastern lowland gorillas still in the wild, and perhaps as many as 80,000 western lowland gorillas, though both species face serious threats from habitat loss and hunting. Western lowland gorillas are by far the most common gorillas found in captivity: they account for more than 98% of the approximately 700 gorillas in zoos and research programs around the world.

Like Koko, however, captive gorillas rarely find themselves in surroundings similar to the lush forests and river valleys of their native land. And they may not have as many companions in captivity as they might in the wild, where gorillas often live in highly social groups of a dozen or more animals. As a result, captive animals like Koko may not behave like their wild cousins. For instance, they may not get the social support and teaching they need to begin breeding.

In an effort to get around those problems, Patterson began looking for a better home for Koko. The Gorilla Foundation realized a major step toward that goal in 1993, when Mary Cameron Sanford and the Maui Land and Pineapple Company made available 70 acres of land in the western part of the Hawaiian island of Maui, where "the climate is much more suitable," says Connelly. "We will develop a large, secluded sanctuary on the 70 acres. The gorilla families will roam freely within as spacious enclosures as we can construct -- spending their days socializing, napping in the sun, playing, foraging through edible vegetation, communicating, reproducing, and raising their children. Also, our preserve can serve as a resource for the zoo gorilla and conservation community, providing needed space and a place for more natural socialization and breeding opportunities."

A Friendship Blossoms
Read about a remarkable bond

A New Home
Koko may be moving to a new preserve

All Thumbs
All about Gorilla Sign Language

Learn to Sign With Koko
Play our game!

Koko's Scrapbook
Flip through an overview of Koko's life

Get more facts about Koko and other gorillas

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