|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 wasn’t 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 Koko’s 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 Penny’s 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 Koko’s 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 keeper’s expense.
A gorilla can make sounds, but its vocal cords, tongue, and lips are not suited to speech the way a human’s 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
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 gorilla’s 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