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″Talking” Gorilla Enjoying New Pets

August 15, 1985 GMT

WOODSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ Koko’s gorilla heart was broken when her tiny pet kitten was killed by a car, but the famous ″talking″ primate is cheering up as she learns to love two new feline companions, Lips and Smoky.

The first pet, All Ball, was hit last December near Francine ″Penny″ Patterson’s Gorilla Foundation.

Koko was disconsolate at the death of her Manx cat, but she and Michael, another gorilla taught by Ms. Patterson to communicate through American Sign Language, have cheered up since the new kittens arrived.

Koko, 14, named both cats, said Ms. Patterson, although the meaning of the name Lips wasn’t clear at first.

Koko picked the name after seeing the tiny orange Manx for the first time. When her trainer asked the meaning of the name, Koko answered, ″Lips lipstick.″

Ms. Patterson was confused until she realized that Lips had a pink nose and mouth, unlike All Ball’s gray markings. Koko picked Smoky’s name because the kitten looks like a cat in one of the gorilla’s books, she said Wednesday.

Although Koko may still miss All Ball, she now acts maternally toward Lips and toward Smoky, acquired several months later after Michael looked as if he would claim Lips.

″The kittens spend a lot of time with the gorillas,″ Ms. Patterson said. ″Michael is really funny because he’s very skilled at using bamboo sticks to make the kittens chase around, and then he laughs and laughs.

″Koko doesn’t laugh nearly as hard. She wants to be maternal - to hold them, carry them around, dress them up and comb them.″

Lips, says Ms. Patterson, is an independent cat and doesn’t like being carried, while Smoky loves to be carried, ″held and snuggled all the time.″

Koko and Michael, 12, still spend much of their time with tutors to increase their vocabulary. Koko knows approximately 500 signs.

″We’re hoping they’ll mate, but the problem is they’ve been reared together since 1976 and they consider each other siblings and they have some sibling rivalry,″ Ms. Patterson said.

She and researcher Ronald H. Cohn are hoping to solve the problem by finding a more natural environment than this small community in the Santa Cruz Mountains about 35 miles south of San Francisco.

″We need to establish a preserve that is 600 to 1,300 acres for Koko and Michael and other gorillas and their offspring. We are looking to establish a preserve that will extend into the next century,″ she said.

Other sites in the San Francisco area are being inspected, as well as in Florida and Hawaii, which might be closer to the gorillas’ natural habitat.

″Gorillas are an endangered species, and we want Koko to have offspring so there can be more gorillas in the world,″ she said.