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Koko the Gorilla

Penny Patterson, a young graduate student at Stanford University, spent six


years on an unusual project. She took on a baby gorilla named Koko and taught her to
talk using sign language.
Before Penny began her work with Koko, most scientists were convinced that gorillas
were not very intelligent creatures. Scientists preferred to work with chimpanzees, which
seemed smarter and are smaller that the 250-pound, full-grown gorillas.
Penny was sure that gorillas were at least as intelligent as other primates. She wasnt
afraid to work with them because she had read that they are supposed to be quite tame
and shy. She moved Koko into a trailer and equipped it with a trapeze, an exercise bar, a
toilet, a sleeping box with towels, a motorcycle tire, and an assortment of toys. Then she
and her assistants began to give Koko lessons in sign language.
At first it was a painful process. When Penny held Kokos hands and tried to mold
them into the right sign for a word, Koko would bite her. It was also hard to toilet train
the gorilla. After Koko broke several windows, they put chain link over all the glass in
the trailer and got an unbreakable mirror. When Penny took Koko to her own house, the
gorilla behaved awfully; she slammed all the doors, climbed up the walls and swung from
the moldings, and bounced so hard on Pennys bed that it collapsed.
Gradually Koko learned sign language. By the time she was six and a half years old,
she knew 375 different words. She could express herself in sentences. She even invented
new words by putting together words she already knew. For instance, to express the idea
of sip, she made the signs for eat and drink together. When she saw a zebra, she
made the signs for white tiger.
Koko usually got up around 8:00A.M. and had breakfast with Penny. Then they
would clean Kokos room and settle down at a computer keyboard for a language lesson.
When Koko pressed the keys, she heard each letter and made the sign for it. Afterward
she could play for an hour with Michael, another gorilla in the trailer. After lunch they
would play, learn, and often go for a car ride. After dinner the two gorillas would return
to their rooms and spend time talking to Penny in sign language and looking through
books and magazines, making signs for the things they recognized.
Koko could also be playful with her keepers and call them names. Once she called
one of the women bird and nuts. Sometimes she made jokes. Once she pointed to a
white towel and made the sign for red. A human told her that she was wrong-it was
white, but Koko kept insisting that it was red. Finally she picked a tiny piece of red lint
off the white towel and held it up. She had been having a joke at her keepers expense.
A gorilla can make sounds, but its vocal cords, tongue, and lips are not suited to
speech the way a humans are. Once Koko picked up a telephone and started talking to
the operator. The woman was so startled by the noise that she had the call traced,
thinking it might be an obscene call or a dying person.
Penny Patterson told about her work with Koko by writing many articles and books.
She has made an important contribution, making herself and her gorillas famous in the
scientific community.
Kim Marshall Series, Reading-Book 1, Educators Publishing Service, Inc.

Koko the Gorilla


Questions
1. Scientist preferred to work with chimpanzees rather than gorillas because they were ______?
A. cleaner
B. smaller
C. dumber
D. kinder
2. The trailer had all the furnishings except ____________?
A. toilet
B. shower
C. tire
D. toys
3. What part of a gorillas anatomy is suited for speech? _______
A. lips
B. tongue
C. vocal cords
D. lungs
4. In the following phrase what does community refer to? ______.
.making herself and her gorillas famous in the scientific community.
A. neighbors B. area
C. other scientists
D. zoologists
5. The telephone operator had the phone call traced because she was ________.
A. concerned
B. frightened C. scared
D. happy
6. Which adjective does not describe Koko? ________
A. smart
B. kind
C. fun
D. neat

In the article on Koko, the student Penny Patterson believed in something and set out to
prove it. Write an essay discussing the sacrifices people make in order to improve our
understanding of a subject. Use specific examples from the article to demonstrate the
sacrifices and new knowledge that was gained from her work. Would you be willing to
make sacrifices to improve human knowledge? Why or why not.

created by Bob Leadbetter