Koko the gorilla, who mastered sign language, dies at 46

6_21_Koko the Gorilla

"Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world", The Gorilla Foundation said in its statement. This endeavour was quick to become part of a Stanford University project in 1974.

An "extraordinary" gorilla that mastered sign language has died.

Koko was born in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo.

The World Animal Foundation estimates the average lifespan of a mountain gorilla to be 53 years in captivity. Michael died in 2000.

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"Koko and Robin's encounter is a supreme example of how humans and gorillas can overcome interspecies boundaries and express the highest form of empathy - embracing differences". "People's lives were changed completely after meeting her, they looked in her eyes and it was nearly like another universe", said Joy Chesbrough with the foundation. She appeared twice in the magazine National Geographic. The photo was iconic because Koko took the photo herself in a mirror, but she would go on to become something of a celebrity both in the United States and overseas. At left, Koko indicates "eat" with bunched fingertips to her lips and gets her prize, at right.

Koko adopted two kittens on her 44th birthday - Ms. Gray and Ms. Black. In 1983 she was given her first kitten who she learned to love and nurture as though it were her own offspring. There, with Dr. Ronald Cohn, she started The Gorilla Foundation. "They were like mother and daughter", said Gary Stanley, chief operating officer at the Gorilla Foundation.

Koko was among a handful of primates who could communicate using sign language; others included Washoe, a female chimpanzee in Washington state, and Chantek, a male orangutan in Atlanta. These include conservation efforts in Africa and expanding the Maui Great Ape Sanctuary in Hawaii.

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