Bad gorilla, Koko! Bad gorilla!

Published March 10, 2005

Three former caretakers for Koko the "talking" gorilla contend in a lawsuit that they were ordered to flash their breasts at the ape to satisfy a simian nipple fetish.

On one occasion, the lawsuit says, Gorilla Foundation president Francine "Penny" Patterson told the gorilla, "Koko, you see my nipples all the time. You are probably bored with my nipples. You need to see new nipples."

Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller, both of San Francisco, are suing the Gorilla Foundation and Patterson for more than $1-million, alleging sexual discrimination, wrongful termination and failure to pay overtime or provide rest breaks. In a separate suit, Iris Rivera of Redwood City, Calif., is claiming sexual and disability discrimination, invasion of privacy and Labor Code violations. It asks for unspecified damages. The Gorilla Foundation, based in Woodside, Ca., denies the allegations. Its response is posted on its Web site, koko.org.

Koko, a 33-year-old female lowland gorilla, is said to have a working vocabulary of more than 1,000 words in American Sign Language.

Koko has not commented publicly on the suit, but here are excerpts from an Internet chat with Koko and Penny Patterson from April 28, 1998, which attracted more than 8,000 America Online users.

- KELLEY BENHAM, Times staff writer

PENNY: Hey, Cutie. (Penny swivels Koko's chair around so they face each other.) Let me explain what we're doing.

KOKO: Fine.

PENNY: We're going to be on the phone with a lot of people who are going to ask us questions . . .

KOKO: Nipple.

PENNY: . . . about you and about me. . . . Lots of people.

* * *

AOL: Question: Do you like to chat with other people?

PENNY: Koko, do you like to talk to people?

KOKO: Fine nipple.

PENNY: Yes, that was her answer. "Nipple" rhymes with "people," Okay? She doesn't sign "people" per se, so she may be trying to do a "sounds like . . ." but she indicated it was "fine."

KOKO: Give-me. (For more treats.)

* * *

AOL: Tell us about the Maui preserve, what you're hoping to do?

KOKO: Mouth give-me. (Indicating food Penny is taking from her pocket.)

PENNY: Our dream is to establish a preserve on 70 acres of . . .

KOKO: Give-me.

PENNY: . . . land donated on West Maui by Maui Land & Pineapple . . .


PENNY: . . . Company . . .

KOKO: This nipple.

PENNY: This is something I'm talking about, but it hasn't happened. And the reason we haven't been able to make it happen yet is . . .

KOKO: Give-me.

PENNY: . . . that we're trying very hard to raise the money that it will take to build the preserve and make it habitable for them. That's going to take about $7-million, and we're less than half way there. So we're hoping that corporations, the public at large, foundations will help us with that project. And we are now approaching them and asking, so we're asking here, too.

KOKO: Hurry give-me mouth nipple.

* * *

KOKO: Candy hurry . . . candy.

PENNY: She'll probably be very pleased to have her dinner. She's asking me for "candy" right now. After dinner.

KOKO: Candy hurry.

PENNY: She has vegetables for dinner . . . raw vegetables . . .

KOKO: Nipple.

PENNY: Yes, like a big salad.

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