Talking apes aren't just the stuff of science fiction. You've probably heard of Koko—the gorilla who learned to speak with her hands thanks to decades of lessons from animal psychologist Francine "Penny" Patterson. BBC One recently shared a teaser for a new documentary about Koko and Penny, which will premiere this week on BBC One in the UK and will show later this summer (August 3) on PBS for viewers in the United States.
According to Koko's official website, the pair met during the gorilla's first year of life in 1971. By age 2, Koko had reportedly learned 80 words, and today her American Sign Language vocabulary is 1000 words strong. (She also understands 2000 spoken English words.) The trailer for the documentary provides glimpses into Koko's life over the past 45 years (her birthday is on July 4) as she learned words and phrases like "cat," "cry," "open lock," and "you tickle" to tell Patterson and others what she was thinking and feeling. The clip also shows the more contentious side of Project Koko, with some saying that the gorilla's "talking" was a result of Patterson's maternal projections, and that she was fooling the public for years.
With over 1000 hours of archival footage, viewers can decide for themselves just what to make of Koko, and consider the implications of her extraordinary intelligence.
Banner image credit: YouTube