Koko, the world famous signing gorilla, known for her ability to communicate via sign language, is also showing signs of early speech. The 44-year-old primate is said to have developed vocal and breathing behaviors associated with the ability to talk, which were previously thought to be impossible in her species,” according to The Daily Mail. The new development could further “blur the line between what distinguishes humans from some of our more hirsute cousins,” experts say.
Primatologists have long believed in a limited “vocal repertoire” for each species of ape, basically rendering them unable to learn new sounds beyond a certain range. The theory suggests that development of verbal language is a unique in that it’s only a strictly human characteristic. Koko is believed to be on the verge of shattering scientific notion.
Marcus Perlman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison who has been working at the Gorilla Foundation, Koko’s home since 2011, explained to the publication, “I went there with the idea of studying Koko’s gestures, but as I got into watching videos of her, I saw her performing all these amazing vocal behaviors.
These were learned behaviors, and not part of a “typical gorilla repertoire,” Perlman and his fellow researchers found.
Though Koko’s command of sign language is certainly something extraordinary, Perlman believes she is “no more gifted than other gorillas.” He notes that the difference is just her “environmental circumstances,” adding, “You obviously don’t see things like this in wild populations.”
Although she is yet to speak her first word, many claim Koko has already demonstrated her “personhood” due to her expansive command of modified American Sign Language (ASL), and knowledge of over 1,000 signs in “Gorilla Sign Language” (GSL).
Photo Credit: Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org via Daily Mail