'Man stupid, fix Earth!': Gorilla uses sign language to be the 'voice of nature'

Kamilia Palu

A gorilla who is able to communicate through sign language has starred as the ‘voice of nature’ in a video shown at a recent climate change conference.

The video shows the 44-year-old western lowland gorilla talking about nature and mankind through sign.

Koko, the 44-year-old gorilla who scientists claim can communicate through sign language. Photo: The Gorilla Foundation
Koko, the 44-year-old gorilla who scientists claim can communicate through sign language. Photo: The Gorilla Foundation

“Man Koko love, Earth Koko love. But man stupid,” she says, gesturing to her head.

“Fix Earth! Help Earth! Protect Earth.”

NOE Conservation, a French organization focused on preserving biodiversity, wrote the script in partnership The Gorilla Foundation for Koko and allowed her to improvise.

'Man stupid' says Koko, during the video for climate change. Photo: The Gorilla Foundation
'Man stupid' says Koko, during the video for climate change. Photo: The Gorilla Foundation

“Because of her unique ability to communicate with humans in sign language, Koko is a natural ambassador for endangered species,” a statement from The Gorilla Foundation reads.

“The resulting PSA (public service announcement) was edited from a number of separate takes, for brevity and continuity.”

They maintain Koko’s main message is: “Man is harming the Earth and its many animal and plant species and needs to ‘hurry’ and fix the problem.”

The Gorilla Foundation insists that Koko's message is clear - for mankind to stop harming Earth. Photo: The Gorilla Foundation
The Gorilla Foundation insists that Koko's message is clear - for mankind to stop harming Earth. Photo: The Gorilla Foundation

Koko’s sign language has been a topic of controversy, as many skeptics insist the gestures are nothing but mimicry.

One user on a forum for skeptics said, “I'm continually surprised to discover how many educated and informed people believe that gorillas and chimps have been taught sign language.”

“Yes, some primates have been taught to make gestures, and to get what they want by using them, but this is a trivial trick that can be done with all sorts of animals.”

Koko signs off from the video, thanking her many supporters. Photo: The Gorilla Foundation
Koko signs off from the video, thanking her many supporters. Photo: The Gorilla Foundation

Penny Patteron from The Gorilla Foundation has been training Koko since she was 1 year old and insists she can sign more than 1000 words and understand more than 2000 words in the English language.

During the filming for the climate change video, The Gorilla Foundation said that Koko even picked up a few new words such as ‘protect’ and ‘nature’.

The video was shown at the COP21 Climate Conference in Paris last month.

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