The Gorilla Foundation was established in 1976 to promote the preservation and propagation of gorillas and other endangered great apes. It is perhaps best known for Project Koko, the first and only long-term interspecies communication study with gorillas, which involved teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to two Western Lowland gorillas, Koko and Michael, who came from completely different backgrounds. Project Koko was thoroughly documented with the help of Dr. Ronald Cohn, whose photography and videography resulted in several documentaries and two National Geographic cover articles — and via thousands of pages of detailed research notes collected by many caregivers/researchers over a period of 4+ decades. Koko and Michael were both successful in learning sign language (Koko’s vocabulary exceeded 1000 signs and Michael’s exceeded 500) as well as other skills previously thought exclusive to humans.
Project Koko remains the only long-term interspecies communication study ever conducted with gorillas and it has served to change the paradigm about gorillas from “King Kong” to “Koko’s Kitten” thereby increasing human empathy for gorillas, which is necessary to save them from human-driven extinction and to improve their lives in captivity. Though Koko and Michael have since passed away, their legacy is ongoing, and the Foundation is currently digitizing, analyzing and preparing to share thousands of hours of unique multimedia research data for others to collaborate, verify and build upon
Conservation through Communication — to learn about gorillas by communicating with them, and apply the knowledge and empathy thus gained to advance great ape conservation and optimize their care in captivity.