Koko The Gorilla Probably Doesn’t Understand Climate Change

Some scientists are more than a little skeptical of a viral video featuring Koko the gorilla giving a “speech” on conservation.

Koko is known for her purported ability to use a modified version of American Sign Language to communicate with humans, and her trainers say she knows more than 1,000 signs. The video, which was released during the COP21 Climate Conference in December, shows Koko signing about the importance of protecting nature.

Two nonprofits — the Gorilla Foundation, which oversees Koko’s care and training, and NOE Conservation, which seeks to safeguard biodiversity — produced the video. It concludes with a petition urging the COP21 participants to include “preservation of biodiversity” in their agreement. (Check it out below.)

The video started recirculating on news sites this week with multiple articles touting the importance of Koko’s message. But can a gorilla really grasp abstract concepts like climate change and biodiversity?

“Of course not,” Herbert Terrace, director of Columbia University’s Primate Cognition Lab, told The Huffington Post. Terrace criticized the video as “highly misleading” because “we don’t know what Koko’s trainer was signing to her before she uttered the various signs … attributed to her.”

The press release accompanying the video notes that Koko received an initial “script” to work with. However, the release also claims that Koko was “briefed” on climate change with an issue of National Geographic, that she was “very interested” in the subject matter and that she was “allowed to improvise” for the purposes of the video. The release says that “Koko was clear about the main message” and refers to her as the “voice of Nature.”

Additionally, NOE’s YouTube page includes a note from the Gorilla Foundation describing the footage —> Read More