Koko, the beloved gorilla best known for mastering sign language, died in her sleep at age 46 on Wednesday.
The Gorilla Foundation announced Koko’s death via social media on Thursday, saying she “touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy.”
Koko, whose full name was Hanabi-ko (meaning “Fireworks Child” in Japanese,) was born on July 4, 1971. Over the years the western lowland gorilla learned more than 1,000 different signs, developed a love of cats, worked alongside many humans including sign language instructor Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson, and inspired several documentaries and the popular children’s book, Koko’s Kitten.
Her willingness to interact with people and her eagerness to learn allowed the world to observe a great deal about her species, and throughout the course of her life Koko made many celebrity friends, including Mister Rogers and Robin Williams.
After news of Koko’s death reached social media, fans showed an outpouring of love for the gorilla, thanking her for all her contributions.
My heart is💔 I loved watching Koko so much. We are the same age and I feel I lost a childhood friend. She was pure love ❤️. Run free beautiful girl 🦍
— Stacey Prussman (@StaceyPrussman) June 21, 2018
Koko taught us soooooo much. One of the greatest women (yeah I said it) humanity has had the honor of knowing. She made us rethink what it means to be human and had more grace, compassion, and empathy, in essence more humanity, than most of us. RIP https://t.co/4ev3aLzLKw
— Greg Myers (@Ruggum) June 21, 2018
The Gorilla Foundation noted in a press release that it will continue to honor “Koko’s legacy” and work with wildlife.
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