Koko, the gorilla who mastered sign language and counted the actor Robin Williams and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea among her friends, has died at age 46.
The Gorilla Foundation said the western lowland gorilla died in her sleep at the foundation’s preserve in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains on Tuesday.
Koko was born at the San Francisco Zoo, and Dr. Francine ‘Penny’ Patterson began teaching the gorilla sign language that became part of a Stanford University project in 1974.
She was said to be able to communicate with humans with 1,000 words of sign language and was able to understand 2,000 words of spoken English.
The foundation said Koko’s capacity for language and empathy opened the minds and hearts of millions.
“The foundation will continue to honor Koko’s legacy and advance our mission with ongoing projects including conservation efforts in Africa, the great ape sanctuary on Maui, and a sign language application featuring Koko for the benefit of both gorillas and children.”