Koko the Gorilla’s Most Iconic Moments

Koko the gorilla.
RIP Koko! Photo: The Gorilla Foundation/

Earlier this week, Koko — a western lowland gorilla who achieved international fame after mastering sign language — died at the age of 46. Upon her passing, the Gorilla Foundation said that she “touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy.” She was also an icon of scamming, pranking, nipple fetishes, and generally being funny as hell.

Here, we look back at some of her best moments.

That time she destroyed her sink, then blamed it on her cat.

Back in the ’80s, Koko had a beloved kitten named All Ball. I won’t say anymore about what happened to All Ball, although hearing that story during my childhood set me up for a lifetime of watching a billion depressing animal videos on the Dodo. Instead, I’ll share a happier anecdote, of a time when Koko blatantly lied to her caretakers.

Per Popular Science:

Koko also used the kitten as a scapegoat when she was being bad; one time, Koko ripped a steel sink from a wall, pointed at All Ball, and signed “cat did it.”

When she took Mister Rogers’s shoes off.

Koko loved to watch Mister Rogers on T.V. When she finally met him, she did what every WikiFeet user wishes they could do with their favorite celebrities: she took his shoes off. (Because that’s what he did at the beginning of every episode, you freaking perverts!)

She called herself ‘Queen.’

Koko had what appears to be an incredibly healthy amount of self-confidence. Take this, from a 2015 Atlantic article:

One of the first words that Koko used to describe herself was Queen. The gorilla was only a few years old when she first made the gesture — sweeping a paw diagonally across her chest as if tracing a royal sash.

And she came to the conclusion entirely by herself:

“It was a sign we almost never used!” Koko’s head-caretaker Francine Patterson laughed. “Koko understands that she’s special because of all the attention she’s had from professors, and caregivers, and the media.”

Her bird goof.

The only thing standing in the way of Koko becoming a prolific prank caller was her lack of verbal communication. From the BBC:

Another time, a caregiver showed the 10-year-old Koko a photo of a bird in a magazine. THAT ME, Koko signed. “Is that really you?” KOKO GOOD BIRD, she responded. “I thought you were a gorilla.” KOKO BIRD. The caregiver asked, “you sure?” Koko responded, pointing to the bird, KOKO GOOD THAT. “Okay, I must be a gorilla,” the caregiver said. BIRD YOU, the gorilla signed. “We’re both birds?” Koko responded by signing GOOD. “Show me,” the caregiver prodded. FAKE BIRD CLOWN. “You’re teasing me. What are you really?” Finally, Koko gave in, with a laugh: GORILLA KOKO.

The infamous Nipple Chat Incident.

Koko loved to see nipples — some might even say she loved that too much. (Yes, there was a sexual-harassment lawsuit.) Slate dredged up a 1998 AOL chat between Koko, Patterson, and the wider web audience. And Koko absolutely could not stop bringing up nipples.

Some highlights:

PENNY: We’re going to be on the phone with a lot of people who are going to ask us questions …

KOKO: Nipple.

PENNY: She has vegetables for dinner … raw vegetables…

KOKO: Nipple.

RIP Koko, forever in our hearts. I’ll think of you every time I see a nipple.

Koko the Gorilla’s Most Iconic Moments