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Why Koko the Gorilla Mattered

Featured twice on the cover of National Geographic magazine, Koko led to major revelations about animal empathy and communication.


 Koko, the western lowland gorilla that died in her sleep Tuesday at age 46, was renowned for her emotional depth and ability to communicate in sign language. She became an international celebrity during the course of her life, with a vocabulary of more than 1,000 signs and the ability to understand 2,000 words of spoken English.

National Geographic magazine featured Koko of its cover twice: First in October 1978, with a photograph that she took of herself in a mirror (perhaps making it one of the earliest prominent animal selfies). She also appeared a second time on the cover in January 1985, in a story about Koko and her pet kitten.

Douglas Main, National Geographic animal expert, is available for commentary out of Washington, D.C. Doug would be able to put into perspective what Koko meant to the scientific community, to conservation groups and to animal lovers. 


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