Cybersurfers Go Ape Over Koko

If Koko the Gorilla had her way, AOL might stand for Animals On Line.

News About Animals
The gorilla, who makes her home near San Francisco and communicates in sign language, made her debut in cyberspace Monday for a chat session with the public.

As many as 8,000 America Online members logged on Monday night to chat with the 26-year-old western lowland gorilla. With the help of her interpreter and handler Penny Patterson, Koko chatted back using sign language to describe colors, her dreams and her cats.

"She was really relaxed," said Patterson. "She was being thoughtful. She was really thinking about these questions."

More than 13,000 questions were submitted, though Koko addressed fewer than a dozen. The gorilla's online conversation was the fifth busiest in AOL history, trailing chat sessions with Rosie O'Donnell, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan and the teen-age pop group Hanson.

The gorilla, who conducted the chat session from the kitchen of her home at the Gorilla Foundation's Woodside facilities, has been tutored for 25 years in American Sign Language. She has a working vocabulary of 500 signs, according to the Gorilla Foundation.

Koko's attention wandered as she played with her toy alligator. After 45 minutes, she lost all interest and began playing with her dolls.

But at times she was responsive enough to impress her cyberspace interlocutors. She even received a marriage proposal, to which she did not respond.

When questioned about her favorite beverage, Koko responded with "apple drink.".

"Eat now," Koko signed to Patterson when the gorilla was asked whether she was hungry. "Red red," Koko said when she wanted to play with a red hair tie. "Foot," Koko replied when asked about a male human.

Koko covered her face when asked if she would ever like to have a baby. Patterson said Koko couldn't quite conceptualize events in the future well enough to address them.

Brenda Smith, who logged on from Port Wing, Wis., and often moderates Internet chat sessions with soap opera stars, said Koko did well in comparison.

"I think that animals are far more intelligent than we give them credit for," she said. "I don't feel a bit offended about being descended from her."