There are few animals as famous and beloved as Koko, a western lowland gorilla who communicates using a modified version of sign language. She and animal psychologist Penny Patterson have forged a friendship that started over 40 years ago when Patterson started teaching the then-baby gorilla to sign as part of her Ph.D. project. The bond is so strong that Patterson has continued her research and relationship with the intelligent animal since, and has chronicled their interactions every step of the way. And PBS’ new documentary, Koko — The Gorilla Who Talks, culls through over 2,000 hours of remarkable footage and presents the amazing journey of these two lifelong friends. The film celebrates their incredible bond and shows how the duo have changed — and become the faces of — animal research.
Over the course of their friendship, Patterson’s footage has shown the fluidity of their relationship — from early days as teacher and pupil, to times when they acted like parent and child, to moments when they chatted like two old friends. Patterson’s cameras have also recorded hilarious times of happiness and play, and moments of sadness — like when Koko learned of her beloved cat’s death — and even chronicled Patterson’s fight to keep Koko from being returned to the zoo where she was born. The documentary is a magnificent tribute to the pair who have changed the perception of animal behavior, unlocked the mysteries of communication, opened the doors of understanding between humans and animals, and allowed Koko to serve as an ambassador for her species.
Koko — The Gorilla Who Talks > PBS > Aug. 3