Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Conversations with Koko: an audience with world's favourite 'talking' gorilla

Alex Hannaford 15 JUNE 2016 • 8:02AM

This piece first ran in September, 2011, and has been republished to coincide with the BBC One documentary Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks to People

My location is a closely guarded secret: a ranch somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains, several miles outside the small California town of Woodside. And for good reason, for its resident is something of a celebrity.

She lives here with a male friend and both value their privacy, so much so that I’m asked to keep absolutely silent as I walk the single-track dirt path that winds through a grove of towering redwoods up to a little Portakabin.

Inside, I’m asked to put on a thin medical mask to cover my nose and mouth and a pair of latex gloves. Then my guide, Lorraine, tells me to follow another dirt trail to a different outbuilding. This one has a small wooden porch attached and it’s here that I sit on a plastic chair and look up at an open door, separated from the outside world by a wire fence that stretches the length and width of the frame.

And there she is: Koko. A 300lb lowland gorilla, sitting staring back at me and pointing to an impressive set of teeth.

I’d been told beforehand not to make eye contact initially as it can be perceived as threatening, and so I glare at the ground. But I can’t help stealing brief glances at this beautiful creature.

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