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"Koko: A Tale of a Talking Gorilla" on BBC Earth

Photo Credit: BBC Earth

Photo Credit: BBC Earth

The unique and personal story of Koko the gorilla and researcher Penny Patterson, who taught Koko sign language and believes that she is living proof of the emotional capabilities of gorillas.

Do animals have feelings? Do they have complex emotions such as grief or empathy? And if so, how should this influence the way we treat them in our society – and in the wild?

For centuries people believed that animals are driven by instinct whereas humans have a higher intellect. Now this assumption is being questioned by a 40-year project, which started as a scientific experiment and ended as a love story, and changed the course of many lives, both human and ape.

Koko’s extraordinary life with Stanford University graduate Penny Patterson has been recorded every step of the way and this film shows the most incredible, moving moments from this unique archive, combined with bespoke observational footage of Koko and Penny’s life today.

It traces Koko’s life over the years: her loves, losses, dating, her unfulfilled desire to have a baby and her work as an ambassador worldwide for better understanding and protection of great apes.

As Koko reaches her 44th birthday, the era of communication between great apes and people could be drawing to a close. What has Koko’s life taught us, and what does the future hold for communication with our closest cousins?

At a time when the ‘personhood’ of great apes is being debated, Koko’s story is a unique window into the emotions and feelings of another species. Above all, this film will question everything we believe makes us special.

BBC Earth is on Starhub Channel 407.