Remembering Koko: A Gorilla and the Story of Her Pet Cat ‘All Ball’

Koko the gorilla via Instagram

Koko the gorilla via Instagram | Koko-Gorilla Foundation via Instagram

Koko, a western lowland gorilla who was born and raised at the San Francisco Zoo, died in her sleep at the age of 46. Koko was known for her impressive sign language skills as well as her fierce love of cats, specifically the pet cat she requested from her caretakers.

Dubbed the “talking gorilla,” Koko’s sign language was beyond impressive. At just 13 years old Koko was famous for the ASL skills taught to her by Gorilla Foundation researchers. One Christmas, Koko made a unique request: a kitten. When the scientists attempted to give her the stuffed animal equivalent, she signed the word “sad.”

Koko selected a gray-and-white kitten and named it “All Ball” on her own. “The cat was a Manx and looked like a ball,” Ron Cohn, a biologist with the foundation, explained. “Koko likes to rhyme words in sign language.”

Koko looked after All Ball like she was her own kin. The two played for an hour each day and Koko mourned All Ball’s death when she was hit by a car.

As we remember Koko, her unique skill set, and her love of animals, look back on the pictures that show her full life.

Koko loved to cuddle All Ball

The gorilla was allowed to spend an hour each day with All Ball.

“They would play chase with each other and she (Koko) would hold it and pet it,” Cohn told the LA Times. “The cat reacted to her as she would a human, but she was pretty independent and would bite Koko or wriggle loose when she got tired of being babied.”

The gorilla spent holidays with her feline friends

The friends frequently celebrated holidays like Halloween, Peace Day, and Christmas together. In the above picture, Koko and Ms. Gray, another kitten companion, post with a jack-o-lantern.

Koko spent Peace Day 2016 with another furry friend reminding the world that “all species are capable of love.” If anyone was the poster child for interspecies cooperation, it was Koko.


Koko made magazine covers with his friends

Koko on National Geographic via Twitter

Koko on National Geographic via Twitter | National Geographic via Twitter

Koko rose from talented gorilla to household name in 1978 when National Geographic published her “mirror selfie” on their cover. The public fell in love with Koko’s adoration for cats and sign language proficiency. She and All Ball appeared on the cover of National Geographic again in 1985.

Koko made a large impact on animal and human communities

“Koko touched the lives of millions as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for interspecies communication and empathy. She was beloved and will be deeply missed,” The Foundation said in their statement. The organization reported it will focus its efforts on wildlife conservation in Africa, a sign language app and a great ape sanctuary in Maui following Koko’s death.

The Foundation urged well-wishers to send condolences to

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