The notion that apes could only communicate through spontaneous noises, such as after being surprised or seeing a predator, may have been dispelled, following research by a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Marcus Perlman made the discovery after watching over 70 hours of footage that had been recorded of the gorilla.
“I went there with the idea of studying Koko’s gestures, but as I got into watching videos of her, I saw her performing all these amazing vocal behaviors,” he said in an article posted on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s website.
Perlman noted that he had seen Koko blow a raspberry when she wanted to be given a treat, while she had also learnt to blow her nose into a tissue and play wind instruments.
Orangutans have also demonstrated some impressive vocal and breathing-related behavior, according to Perlman, indicating the whole great ape family may share the abilities Koko has learned to learn.
“Koko bridges a gap,” Perlman says. “She shows the potential under the right environmental conditions for apes to develop quite a bit of flexible control over their vocal tract. It’s not as fine as human control, but it is certainly control.”