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Koko the Gorilla to take part in Internet 'chat'

Koko and Dr. Patterson
Koko the Gorilla with her translator, Dr. Francine Patterson   
April 24, 1998
Web posted at: 1:51 a.m. EDT (0551 GMT)

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- Even a gorilla can use the Internet. At least that's what scientists at the Gorilla Foundation think.

Koko the Gorilla is scheduled to take part Monday in what is being called the first ever interspecies chat on the Internet. Koko will use America Online to sign on and take questions from curious humans around the world.

Talking to people is nothing new for Koko, who lives at the Gorilla Foundation in a suburb of San Francisco near Silicon Valley. The gorilla has studied American Sign Language for 25 years and is said to understand some 2,000 words of spoken English.

Koko will answer the questions of the Internet users with the help of her tutor and translator, Dr. Francine Patterson. Koko will "chat" through Patterson by using her vocabulary of 1,000 signs to communicate.

Some scientists have expressed doubts about Koko's ability to communicate, but the promoters of the Internet conversation say that, at the very least, it will raise awareness about the plight of Koko's species, the lowland gorilla.

The Central African habitat of the lowland gorillas is threatened by logging and the gorillas themselves are victims of poaching. The cousins of the lowland gorillas, mountain gorillas, now number fewer than 500 in the wild.

Koko, 26, lives at the Gorilla Institute and has been widely promoted through appearances and the release of a picture book about her and a kitten that lived with her. Along with her mate, Michael, she has also been exhibited as a painter.

While not a regular Internet visitor, Koko has had a computer since the late 1980s, when Apple gave her a Macintosh to use as part of a study aimed at developing simpler devices with touch-screen technology.

Koko's Internet chat will take place on AOL on Monday, April 27, at 7:00 p.m. EDT. Others can participate in the dialogue through www.envirolink.org.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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