If You Believe Koko The Gorilla Is Lecturing Us On The Environment, I Have A Bridge To Sell You

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

There’s a video quickly going viral right now, of Koko the gorilla giving us all a lecture about the environment. The gorilla is well known and loved for having learned a large number of hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language. Everyone loves the idea of being able to actually talk to animals — and Koko is beloved.

The video’s had over 11 million views and has been shared over 200,000 times on the Upworthy page alone. Upworthy’s intro to the video simply states: “Koko, the gorilla that can talk with humans, was recently informed of what was at stake during the world’s climate-related summit. Edited for brevity and continuity, this is how she responded.”

Koko is a gorgeous creature, and it’s certainly impressive that she’s learned to “communicate” with her trainers via sign language. And yes, man is doing an impressive job of completely destroying the environment. But pretending that Koko the gorilla can wrap her brain around concepts like environmental destruction is a little ridiculous, isn’t it? Did someone show her a picture of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Explain global warming? How can she possibly know the earth needs to be fixed, even if it is totally true?

I am gorilla. I am flowers… animals… I am nature. Man Koko love. Earth Koko love. But man… stupid. Stupid! Koko sorry. Koko cry. Time hurry! Fix earth. Help earth. Hurry! Protect earth. Nature see you. Thank you.

The advertising agency Marcel worked with environmental conservation group Noe and The Gorilla Foundation to craft the ad, addressing world leaders attending COP21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in France in the beginning of December. The video is in support of a petition demanding that “the preservation of biodiversity must be written in the Paris Agreement.” It’s a really cool ad – but we all understand that Koko isn’t really giving us a message about the state of the earth, right? Edited for brevity and continuity, this is how she responded? No. No she didn’t.

It’s not that Koko the gorilla doesn’t appear to have more charm than certain Presidential frontrunners (and better hair) it’s just that presenting the video like this is very misleading. It’s a profound ad. That’s it. And it’s very moving, and the world is going to shit, and we all really need to start caring for our planet more. But Koko is not imploring us to — she’s being used as a prop. That’s it.

As one science writer explains for Slate in a very thorough and interesting story about ape language research, “like all fairy tales, the one about talking apes is partly make-believe. No matter how much we wish to project ourselves onto them, they are still apes—albeit very intelligent ones.”

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