San Francisco–The Gorilla Foundation announced a series of important changes today, including anticipated new management positions, potential new Board members and a certain new focus, all designed to strengthen one of the world’s leading organizations for great ape understanding, care and conservation. “We have come to a crossroads in our Foundation’s history, and we have recognized the need to do more for the cause of the great apes through building global empathy for their preservation and care”
These improvements, made after an extensive internal review with the help of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, Governing Board and outside consultants, seek to balance the vital goals of caring for and protecting the gorillas (Koko and Ndume) while refocusing and reinvigorating the organization’s core mission of learning about gorillas through direct communication, and applying that knowledge to advance great ape conservation and prevent their extinction through education, compassionate care and empathy worldwide.
“We have come to a crossroads in our Foundation’s history, and we have recognized the need to do more for the cause of the great apes through building global empathy for their preservation and care,” said Dr. Penny Patterson, the lead researcher behind the Foundation’s groundbreaking “Project Koko,” which is to date the longest running interspecies communication project in history and the only one involving gorillas.
“Koko and her family have taught us so much over many decades and now, more than ever, we feel it is incumbent on this organization to share what we’ve learned with people across the globe, as a way to help put an end to poaching and build compassion for enhancing the care of gorillas and other great apes everywhere,” she said.
The Gorilla Foundation was founded in 1976 by Dr. Patterson, Ron Cohn and philanthropist Barbara Hiller to expand the groundbreaking and unique work of “Project Koko,” the first-ever project to study the linguistic capabilities of gorillas through sign language. Today, after decades of research and learning, Koko is able to use more than 1,000 signs, understands as many words of spoken English, and demonstrates the amazing ability to communicate her thoughts and express her feelings through sign language.
With the goal of protecting and honoring this legacy for generations to come, the Foundation’s leadership today announced, in addition to organizational changes, a series of goals and programs that are designed to make better use of what Koko and her family have taught us over the years. These include:
1. Gorilla Emotional Awareness Study (GEARS) will provide an analysis of Koko’s awareness of her emotions (introspection) and the emotions of others (empathy), in research made possible by her unique communication abilities.
2. Digital Data Archival of Project Koko for Future Crowd-Sourced Research will involve a partnership with a major university to digitize and preserve four decades of unique Gorilla Foundation data and archive it in a form that will facilitate analysis and collaboration.
3. Koko Signing App will allow the public to learn to sign with Koko and to understand her in videos designed to advance the public’s knowledge about gorillas and learn about their need for compassionate conservation.
4. Project Koko Interactive Database will be made available to scientific colleagues and great ape facilities so that they can make use of our direct experience and data, gained through years of communicating with gorillas.
5. Publication of new book (with video), Michael’s Dream, about the remarkable life of Koko’s gorilla friend Michael, who, on several occasions, communicated (in sign language) his memory of witnessing his gorilla mother being killed by poachers in Africa. This was documented on video.
6. Wide Distribution of Koko’s Kitten & Michael’s Dream Books and Educational Curricula throughout Africa, to strengthen compassionate conservation values and support the preservation of endangered gorillas In their homelands. This builds on our successful distribution of Koko’s Kitten (and curriculum) to over 100,000 students in Cameroon.
CARE AND WELLNESS:
7. Enhancement of Koko & Ndume’s facilities to enrich their lives, expand their options for exploration and privacy, and create capacity for a larger gorilla family.
8. Gorilla Interspecies Communication Work/Play-Station will provide the gorillas with the use of interactive computer technology (including “tough tablets”) to allow them to have fun, express their preferences and have more control over their environment.
9. Expanding the Foundation’s Board of Directors to include more experts in our highly specialized field, as well as strategically selected business, finance and fundraising experts.
10. Developing a new executive team for leadership, fundraising and building strategic alliances.
These changes are being made as part of a focused process with three primary goals: 1) to ensure the care and protection of Koko and Ndume now and into the future and 2) to better apply the lessons learned by the Foundation to protect and enhance the lives of gorillas and other great apes worldwide, and 3) to allow our enlightening dialogues with Koko, Ndume and other gorillas to continue.
The Foundation’s leadership is tremendously appreciative of the contributions of its Board of Directors, Advisory Board, and its many consultants and colleagues, who were integral to the development of this new vision.
For more information about the Gorilla Foundation, visit www.koko.org.