Thought Catalog
February 24, 2011

Koko, The “Talking” Gorilla

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Koko’s top 3 wishes in life, repeatedly mentioned throughout her internet presence, in most press releases, and in subscription materials (I donated $25 to The Gorilla Foundation at some point and now regularly receive Koko-related things in the mail) are:

#1 “A gorilla baby to love”
#2 “Move to the new Maui Ape Preserve”
#3 “People to be ‘polite’ to gorillas”

Though Koko herself lists it as second, moving to Maui is presented, aggregately, I feel, as definitely the main goal of The Gorilla Foundation.

The first movement toward moving to Maui occurred in 1993 when The Gorilla Foundation signed a 65-year lease to use 70 acres of Maui Land & Pineapple Co. land as a gorilla preserve, according to an article in The Maui News. The purpose of the preserve would be to establish a home simulating “the tropical rain forests of Africa” and, in extension, be a “vital step” toward saving gorillas from extinction.

The first concrete action occurred in 2000, when the foundation obtained the necessary permits and constructed a small building, an enclosure, a reservoir.

In 2007 the project was described as “going through a redesign phase to take advantage of advances,” which most people would probably interpret as meaning “it will never be finished, it seems,” as there will likely not ever be a time when advances are not available to “take advantage” of in another “redesign phase.” No concrete progress has been made since the 2007 announcement, according to the “Maui Ape Preserve” section of, which says that $2 million has been raised.

According to Dr. Penny Patterson “All of Koko’s wishes are within reach. Koko could potentially still conceive or adopt a baby gorilla, and members of her species are known to live well into their fifties. In addition, work is underway to make the Maui Preserve a reality that we believe will play an important role in furthering the survival of the species. We feel there is a lot to celebrate. Happy birthday, Koko, good friend and ‘fine gorilla person’!”


According to National Geographic the average lifespan of a Western Lowland Gorilla is 35 years. Though lifespan increases in captivity, Koko, who turns 40 on July 4 of this year, is still morbidly elderly, and with only 608 followers on Twitter, art that sells for  $150-$350, a brand too complex, at this point, for journalists to successfully pitch to their editors, and a global network of increasingly powerful media corporations focused on publicizing natural disasters, political gaffes, religious fervor, and [other conflict-based memes] it seems unlikely that Koko will achieve any of her life wishes (the third, for humans to “be polite” to gorillas, seems less a wish than either an idle yearning or a weakly inflected joke).

This conventionally depressing aspect of Koko’s life is featured prominently in press releases and on, perhaps because The Gorilla Foundation, through readings of Buddhist and philosophical texts and as a natural expression of its unafraid brand, feels no sadness about it, due to viewing goals as relevant only for the direction they provide in the otherwise directionless period between birth and death, regardless of achievement. In this worldview existence itself is the only “accomplishment,” after which there is only a half-sarcastically directionalized “play,” which, if there is any, may be the core sentiment that powers a brand more focused on amusing itself than on qualifying itself upward within a culturally, societally, or politically defined hierarchy.