Koko is no more, but let’s see what we can learn from her!


Humans. Chimpanzees. Gorillas. Essentially all these species are part of the family Hominidae (great apes).  However, it seems strange to think that these other apes could be as smart as us. For starters, we can talk and express ourselves in complex ways unlike other apes. But to really understand our similarities and differences, let’s take a look at some studies conducted by various scientists.

Frans De Waal (69) is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist.

What does that mean? Well, it simply means that Mr. De Waal studies animal behaviour and primate behaviour. He conducted a study at the Arnhem Zoo, in Holland. After watching one of his talks that featured on the TED website, I learned that maybe chimpanzees aren’t so different from us.

Let’s say you get into an argument with a friend. Regardless of whether you win or lose the argument, you aren’t going to feel too good with your result. So eventually, you would try and make up with your friend to avoid damaging your relationship. Now one would think that this would differ in chimps, but actually they display similar moral behaviour.

As Mr De Waal observed, two chimps had gotten into a fight and one of them won this fight. However soon after, the triumphant chimp held out his hand to the other as a sign of peace. Now why would this chimp attempt to reconcile with the other? Does anything matter beyond winning or losing to them? Aren’t chimpanzees just monkeys after all?

Let’s use the example of a gorilla. Koko was an amazing gorilla who unfortunately passed away recently. What was so special about her? Koko could communicate with humans using sign language. She had an IQ between 75-95 and normal human IQ is about 100. Koko was born at the San Fransisco Zoo, and she spent most of her life in California. Francine Patterson, her handler ,originally planned on studying Koko for 4 years, however, she ended up looking after her until Koko’s death last week.

Koko’s handler made the discovery that gorillas already communicate using gestures. So really, she was just building on this knowledge of sign language. Koko could describe her emotions simply by gesturing. She was known for making the sign ‘Koko love’ to describe her happiness and other emotions of enjoyment.

So, based on this knowledge, are gorillas and chimpanzees really that different from humans? Yes, they cannot talk, however, they can communicate with us through other techniques and are emotionally developed as well. We are constantly making new discoveries regarding inter species communication. So let’s move forward with times and live in harmony with these other animals. We are sharing this world after all.

Ananya is an aspiring cellist who likes reading, swimming and eating pizza in her free time.

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