Our emotions play a big part in our overall mood as well as decision making. Additionally, it can often feel like an impossible pit to get yourself out of when you’re depressed or feeling sad. Sometimes the best medicine doesn’t come in the form of a pill or prescription. Your friends and family are usually the support you go to in your most desperate hour. For Koko the gorilla, Robin Williams was a complete stranger that changed her life in mere minutes.
People often underestimate the power of laughter and joy when they’re feeling intense sadness. The passing of these two icons leaves us with bittersweet feelings. However, the lessons they taught us will never be forgotten.
Koko The Gorilla
Koko, the gorilla, is well known as one of the few of her kind that can communicate through sign language. She knew over 2,000 words and had the intelligence of a 3-year-old. With over 1,000 different signs in her arsenal, Koko could have lengthy conversations with just about anybody. Additionally, you can find multiple videos of Koko all over the internet and her progress through life.
However, there was one interaction that stood out the most when compared to all others. It was a meeting between Koko the Gorilla and a complete stranger, but it didn’t take long for them to become the closest of friends. Who was the stranger? Robin Williams. Williams and Koko formed an incredible bond together. The timing of their meeting seemed to have had a big impact on both of them. At the time, Koko had been grieving the loss of her lifelong friend for over 6 months. Her demeanor expressed a lot of her sadness as she reluctantly communicated with others. Koko’s childhood friend, Michael, was only 27 when he passed away. In the 6 months of her mourning, Koko never smiled until she met Williams.
In 2001, Williams and Koko the gorilla had the chance to finally meet. Williams was already sitting down as Koko entered the room with her caregiver, Francine Patterson. Koko gently took Williams’s hand, guiding him to sit down on the ground with her instead of the seats. He obliged happily as he sat across from her. Surprisingly, they were able to become best friends almost instantaneously. Without using very many words, the two exchanged a powerful moment together.
After the introductory ‘exploring of faces and hands,’ the two seemed perfectly connected. Soon the two of them were tickling each other and hugging as if they had known each other their whole lives. After a few moments of laughter and joy pass, Koko decides to try something silly. She reaches for his glasses on Williams’s face and places them neatly onto her own. Koko gets up and wanders outside with her new pair of glasses as she inspects the surrounding environment with them. Making scrunched up faces as she took the glasses on and off. This amused Williams the more she played with his glasses.
Patterson was completely overjoyed with their interaction together. “Notice that Robin made Koko smile — something she hadn’t done for over six months, ever since her childhood gorilla companion, Michael, passed away at the age of 27. Robin’s ability to just ‘hang out’ with Koko, a gorilla, and in minutes become one of her closest friends, was extraordinary and unforgettable. But Robin didn’t just cheer up Koko, the effect was also mutual, and Robin seemed transformed.” (1)
Love & Laughter
This unique experience between Williams and Koko gives us insight into the coexistence between humans and animals. Even though a lot of humankind has severed its natural ties to the earth, there are moments like this that shine through. Koko has been in human care since she was born and was raised to communicate with others. There aren’t many other gorilla’s who have the same capacity for knowledge as Koko did. However, this doesn’t mean we should underestimate animals’ abilities to feel emotions.
Other species have been known to express themselves in very subtle and not so subtle ways. Our perspective on nature and how we treat it is a lot more compatible than we think it is. Even sharks have been known to exude affection from time to time. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should go pet a random shark, more so that they are capable of feeling emotions. We shouldn’t underestimate an animal’s ability to share love and joy with humans. Aside from your typical animal pets such as cats and dogs, there’s a lot more that can be said for other species like Koko, who want to learn and want to communicate with the world around them.
The bond that Koko the gorilla and Robin Williams share is a prime example of this. Two beings that have never once met before but became best friends within a matter of minutes. All it took was the both of them willing to try to understand one another.
Koko The Gorilla & Loving The World Around You
Williams didn’t have any preconceived notions of Koko, and he let her express herself in any way she wanted. They gave each other love and laughter, a powerful combination of emotions that exceeds everything else. So much so that Koko finally found the strength to smile once again after a long period of grieving.
As time pressed on from that moment, Koko was very disheartened to hear of Williams’s death in 2014. Signing to her caregivers that she was very sad when she received the news. Unfortunately, in 2018 Koko passed away. Leaving us with a dire message about changing the way humanity is treating earth.
“We shared something extraordinary – laughter. Koko understands spoken English and uses over 1,000 to share her feelings and thoughts about daily events, life, love, even death.” Williams explained his experience with Koko. (1)
Our planet is still in desperate need of help. As climate change continues to give us unpredictable weather, species of animals becoming extinct, and devastating events, time is certainly running out. It is up to humanity to find a sustainable coexistence with nature before it’s too late.
- “Koko The Gorilla Hadn’t Laughed In 6 Months Until She Met Robin Williams.” Apsari. Moumita Basu. June 15, 2020.
- “Koko’s Tribute to Robin Williams.” Youtube. KokoFlix. August 14, 2014.
- “Wild Animals Showing Love to Human #5.” Youtube. WatchnRelax. November 2, 2016.
- “KoKo’s last message to humanity.” Youtube. Terrence Daniels. June 25, 2018.
- “Want to fight climate change effectively? Here’s where to donate your money.” Vox. Sigal Samuel. September 17, 2020.