Koko, gorilla who uses sign language, celebrates 30th birthday | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Koko, gorilla who uses sign language, celebrates 30th birthday

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Koko, the signing gorilla, will wear lipstick, eat tofu burgers and gobble low-fat cake this Fourth of July as she celebrates her 30th birthday.

Born in the San Francisco Zoo in 1971, Hanabi-Ko, Japanese for ”fireworks child,” became famous after learning to sign more than 1,000 words.

She hand-picked her birthday menu, including corn on the cob, cole slaw, nuts, vegetable chips and sparkling apple cider, her favorite. Like most middle-aged Americans, Koko is on a diet, so this year’s birthday cake will be smaller.

”She’ll be opening lots of presents,” said Kevin Connelly, development director at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside. ”She’s getting a variety of things, including thousands of cards from well wishers and members around the world.”

Connelly said a baby is the one gift Koko has said she would like most. Koko and her male companion, Ndume, 19, have been together for eight years. He came to the foundation on loan from the Cincinnati Zoo after Koko selected him from a video of available zoo gorillas.

Connelly said Koko’s biological clock is ticking, but she still has time since the oldest female to give birth in captivity was 37. The oldest gorilla in captivity lived to be 54.

Koko will go for a birthday walk around the grounds in Northern California, where she lives at a private residence. She will then eat, open presents and blow out three candles on her cake.

”She asked for balloons to be at the party and she also wanted some lipstick and cosmetics,” Connelly said. ”She does like to put lipstick on. She eats it, too.”

Connelly said Koko and Ndume are expected to move to Maui within the next 18 months where they will live on 70 acres of donated land.

The foundation hopes Koko will raise awareness about the bushmeat trade occurring in Africa where gorillas are being hunted and killed.

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