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Arts & Culture

Koko - The Gorilla Who Talks

Courtesy of © 2015 The Gorilla Foundation / / Photo by Ron Cohn
Koko holds a flower to Penny's nose.

Airs Wednesday, June 12, 2019 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

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—The Story of the Remarkable Gorilla Who Captured Hearts Around the World—

“Koko - The Gorilla Who Talks” takes viewers back to 1971, when Project Koko started as Penny Patterson’s Ph.D. assignment to teach sign language to a baby gorilla.


As Koko began to communicate with Penny, an intense bond formed between them and the teacher transformed into both mother figure and companion for more than four decades, while the public’s fascination with Koko made her a star.

Koko’s life was filmed every step of the way.


More than 2,000 hours of footage exist, capturing the dramatic moments, many of which appear in this film, including Penny’s battle to keep Koko from being reclaimed by the zoo where she was born; Penny’s clash with academic critics who doubted the validity of her claims; the establishment of The Gorilla Foundation; and the image of Koko mourning the death of her kitten — a moment that brought her international fame.

In June of 2018, Koko died in her sleep, but this film stands as a remarkable look at her amazing abilities and relationships.


Read about the status of gorillas worldwide, and how we can help them.

“This film is an intimate look at an unconventional family and the love they share,” said Bridget Appleby, producer at BBC’s Natural History Unit. “Our goal was to explore what can be learned from this extraordinary long-term experiment turned multi-species friendship. Does it tell us more about animals’ emotions or our own?”

Watch On Your Schedule:

This film is available to stream on demand with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Join The Conversation:

Koko and The Gorilla Foundation are on Facebook, Google +, Instagram, and you can follow @kokotweets on Twitter.


A BBC co-production with PBS.