A video of Koko the gorilla, a master of American Sign Language. A video of the ape has gone viral on YouTube, giving a non-human perspective on the pivotal topic of environmental preservation.
Koko, who is now 45, learned the language from the age of one.
The message was delivered at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference in December on behalf of the french environmental nonprofit NOE conservation.
In it, Koko makes simple, terse statements, transcribed as: “I am gorilla, I am flowers, animals. I am Nature. Man Koko man. Earth Koko love. But man stupid… stupid!”
Koko sorry, Koko cry. Time hurry. Fix Earth! Help Earth! Hurry! Protect Earth. Nature sees you. Thank you.”
Needless to say, Koko’s message found many supporters on social media, who quip that even a gorilla can see the environmental crisis the planet is facing, and yet many humans can’t.
But since then, another point of view has been provided. A report from the Huffington Post earlier today noted that many scientists are skeptical that the gorilla really understands such advanced topics as climate change or biodiversity.
“Of course not,” Herbert Terrace, director of Columbia University’s Primate Cognition Lab, told The Huffington Post in response to the question of the gorilla’s understanding.
Terrace pegged the video as “highly misleading” for the reason that “we don’t know what Koko’s trainer was signing to her before she uttered the various signs … attributed to her.”
Echoing the sentiment was director of Emory University’s Living Links primate research center Frank Waal, who adds that”Koko’s human-coached message goes well beyond anything that a gorilla understands or cares about, such as human global impact.”
Waal goes on to say that unrealistic “stunts” like these sully the reputation of those involved in the field of animal intelligence.
Additionally, it has been revealed in a press release that Koko received an script drafted by NOE just before the video. However, the release notes that this is common practice for any ambassador giving an announcement, and that the resulting video was a piecing together of several improvised takes by the gorilla.
In any case, it appears gorilla raises a valid point, but the profundity of it all is up for debate.