If you are wondering why a gorilla should learn sign language, then you are probably familiar with Koko, the famous gorilla of the Gorilla Foundation. This animal has been successfully taught how to communicate to its human handlers and caregivers by using sign language. In addition to understanding about 1,000 sign language gestures, the gorilla also understands about 2,000 words of the English language when they are spoken to her. While she is not able to respond in English, she does sign her responses.
Koko and her handler have been working together for about 30 years now. In this time the effort was make to painstakingly allow the gorilla to learn sign language in a slightly modified version to help her communicate with those around her. With the goal to foster interspecies communication, the gorilla foundation team went to great length to help the animal to learn sign language.
One of the most fascinating results of this venture was the online chat in which Koko participated in 1998. AOL users from around the world were able to ask questions which the gorilla’s handler would then sign to her. The responses were interpreted by the handler and verbally given to the AOL facilitator. While it may seem a bit odd to have an animal learn sign language, it is actually quite fascinating to engage in a conversation with an animal and find out that there are feelings, emotions, and an understanding about events that transcends the traditional view of animals as being basically geared to eat, sleep, and procreate. As such, the answer to the question why a gorilla should learn sign language is a rather easy one: so that humans have the ability to learn that there is so much more to animals than has been traditionally thought, and the treatment of animals by humans needs to be rethought on the most fundamental levels.