Today is Koko’s 41st birthday. I understand that she’ll get lots of toys today ‒ further filling her room (yes, room) that already has so many toys and so much junk that caregivers find it impossible to clean. If a caregiver asks to take out some of the stuff, to give Koko more room to move around, the answer is no. Koko is too emotionally needy, the caregiver is told, and she wouldn’t like it if some of her toys were removed.
And who is this lucky lady with all the toys?
|Koko enjoys her birthday presents last year|
Koko is a “signing” gorilla who has lived with Penny Patterson, a self-proclaimed researcher who has written children’s books about Koko but very little (if any) peer-reviewed research in the past 30 years or so. (Even the Mission Part 1: Research page of Patterson’s Gorilla Foundation website is totally void of any paper, article, or link to valid scientific research.)
Koko and Ndume are the two gorillas who make up the grand total of Patterson's Gorilla Foundation. Don’t get the idea, though, that Koko and Ndume are companions. Patterson keeps them separated from each other.
Today I received a plaintive email, asking for help for the two apes. “I just want everyone to know the truth about the Gorilla Foundation and how they don't really care about Koko and Ndume. My heart goes out to them,” wrote someone who knows the situation. “If I could have my way, the Gorilla Foundation would be shut down and Koko and Ndume would go to real sanctuaries where they treat gorillas properly and where they are allowed to act like gorillas.”
Oh, shit. Shades of Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Sanctuary and Computer Academy?
Lots of primate experts are hesitant to criticize some of the ape ladies ‒ like Patterson and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh ‒ who live in very close contact with their pets (oh, sorry, “research subjects”), but one brave soul recently spoke out. Andrew Halloran, in a marvelously insightful and refreshing book, The Song of the Ape, takes a hard look at the claims that apes are able to “speak” like humans. “There are few things more depressing than watching [the 1978 movie] Koko: A Talking Gorilla,” Halloran writes in a footnote. “I encourage everyone to watch the film and draw their own conclusion.”
Over the next couple of weeks, we will go into some of the issues that should concern us about Gorilla Foundation… but for now let’s just remember that today is Koko’s day. The birthday theme at the Gorilla Foundation today is "Koko is queen for a day,” and the caregivers get to dress up as jesters, costumes by Penny Patterson.
I wonder who the top court jester is.
Happy birthday, Koko.