Journalist Alex Hannaford of UK-based newspaper, The Telegraph, was recently granted an unprecedented encounter with Koko, the 40-year-old lowland gorilla who has made international headlines over the past decades with her demonstrated ability to communicate with sign language that has opened new understanding about the intelligence and emotions of animals.
Mr. Hannaford arrived at Koko’s home in the hills of California, USA, where he was introduced by Dr. Penny Patterson, a researcher who has been with Koko almost her entire life.
In greeting Mr. Hannaford, the 300-pound primate gently embraced him and led him around her room. As Mr. Hannaford showed Koko a photo of his newborn baby, she responded by kissing the picture in affection, and later, in sensing that he was still nervous, Koko signaled for Mr. Hannaford to lay down beside her.
Dr. Patterson explained that among the things learned about great apes through studying Koko is that they have a great capacity for empathy. She went on to say that these great animals are well aware of their often-horrific treatment by humans, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature notes has rendered all gorilla subspecies as either endangered or critically endangered.
Both Michael, a silverback gorilla who was Koko's mate until he passed away, and Koko herself have communicated their understanding of witnessing gorilla slaughter.
In Coco's case, Dr. Patterson said that she had neglected to preview a DVD before Koko had seen it. When she looked up, she saw that Koko was watching a gruesome bushmeat scene.
The next day, as she was going through some mail, Koko picked up an insert from a newspaper. Holding up a section full of pictures of meat, she said in sign language, "Shame there.”
Mr. Alex Hannaford, many thanks for sharing your touching meeting with Koko as we also send our gratitude to Koko and Dr. Penny Patterson for continuing to expand our understanding of the kindhearted gorillas. Blessed be such efforts in fostering our love for all beings toward a world where compassion and respect prevails.
During a March 2009 videoconference in Mexico, Supreme Master Ching Hai spoke of the deep wisdom and sensitivity of our gentle animal co-inhabitants, who only wish to assist humanity in being kinder stewards of the ecosphere.