Gorilla Koko who learned sign language dies in sleep at 46

Millions of animal lovers were left heartbroken as Koko (pictured: Courtesy: Gorilla Foundation), the gorilla who stole their hearts with her capacity for sign language and empathy, died in sleep at the age of 46 on Tuesday. She passed away at the Gorilla Foundation’s preserve in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. In a moving tribute, the foundation described Koko as an ambassador for all gorillas and an icon for inter-species communication and empathy. It said the beloved and extraordinary ape will be deeply missed. Koko was born at the San Francisco Zoo on Independence Day in 1971. Born Hanabi-ko (Japanese name for Fireworks Child), Koko began to learn sign language at a very young age under animal psychologist Dr. Francine (Penny) Patterson as part of a Stanford University project. She had appeared in several documentaries and on the cover of National Geographic twice. The first cover, in October of 1978, carried a photograph Koko had taken of herself in a mirror. The second issue, in January of 1985, included the story of Koko and her kitten. Herself a celebrity, Koko had met Hollywood actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and the late Robin Williams.