Koko The Signing Gorilla Has A Message For Us

A PSA from French nonprofit Noé Conservation features a signing gorilla urging humans to protect biodiversity. Those of you who, like me, loved Koko’s Kitten growing up will recognize the star of the PSA as Koko, a 44-year-old gorilla with a vocabulary of over a thousand signed words. The video explains that Koko has a “message for nations attending the COP21 summit [the United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in late 2015],” which boils down to “Fix Earth!”

In the video, released in last month, Koko appears to make a plea for viewers to help the environment, signing, “Earth Koko love, but Man stupid…. Fix Earth! Help Earth! Hurry!” The PSA then asks viewers to sign a petition, demanding that the preservation of biodiversity be written into the Paris Agreement, the UN plan to slow climate change created in mid-December.

The Gorilla Foundation, the non-profit that cares for and studies Koko, explained how Koko got involved in the project:

Because of her unique ability to communicate with humans in sign language, Koko is a natural ambassador for endangered species, and thus we agreed to co-produce a short video PSA (Public Service Announcement) contingent on Koko’s willingness to participate.

The foundation said that Koko was briefed on the subject of climate change “via a recent issue of National Geographic titled ‘Cool It!’” and that “Koko was very interested in the subject.” For the filming of the video, Koko was given a script, but was also able to improvise.

The Gorilla Foundation added,

The resulting PSA (above) was edited from a number of separate takes, for brevity and continuity. However, Koko was clear about the main message: Man is harming the Earth and its many animal and plant species and needs to “hurry” and fix the problem.

Although the video’s message itself — that we need to preserve our planet’s biodiversity — is undoubtedly an important one, the use of Koko as the messenger isn’t without detractors. In an article for NPR, Barbara J. King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary, argues that the Gorilla Foundation’s claim that Koko understands climate change as a concept is problematic. She writes, “Not even linguistically inclined apes comprehend anything close to the dynamic interplay between humans and nature that underlies anthropogenic climate change.” King adds, “[I]t's not very respectful of the world's biodiversity to insist upon making apes into furry versions of ourselves.”

Watch the full video below.

Images: YouTube (4)