Koko, the beloved gorilla who mastered sign language and used over 1 000 signs to communicate emotions and thoughts and was said to have also understood about 2 000 spoken English words, died in her sleep at the Gorilla Foundation’s preserve in California on Tuesday, 19 June.

“The Gorilla Foundation is sad to announce the passing of our beloved Koko,” a statement by the organisation said on the passing of the female western lowland gorilla, born at San Francisco Zoo in 1971.

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The primate was the primary ambassador for her endangered species, appearing on the cover of National Geographic twice – once in 1978 with a picture she had taken of herself – and had formed friendships with celebrities such as the late Robin Williams.

When told of William’s passing, Dr Francine Patterson, who had reportedly taught Koko rudimentary sign language, said she went “quiet and very thoughtful,” according to The Guardian.

“Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world,” the Gorilla Foundation said.

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