Michael’s Nightmare With the Gorilla Foundation

Michael (1973-2000)

Michael (1973-2000)

Apparently Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson and the Gorilla Foundation are bringing Michael, Koko’s former gorilla non-companion, back from the dead for yet another round of exploitation, this time in the form of an Ebook announced in a rather bizarre recent press release (of sorts) from “World Reader”. The Gorilla Foundation shared this announcement via social media, trying to ride the wake of their recent documentary publicity I suppose.

Conservation Through Storytelling

August 3, 2016 By

“Today Worldreader is proud to announce the addition of two books to our collection from the Gorilla Foundation: Koko’s Kitten and Michael’s Dream, true stories which together paint a terribly familiar portrait of sorrow in the aftermath of tragedy. In the first book we meet Koko, the Gorilla, who takes gentle care of a tiny kitten she names All Ball. When All Ball is hit by a car she is grief stricken. In the second we meet Michael who, when asked about his mother, uses American Sign Language to describe losing her to violence. Dr. Penny Patterson, who co-founded The Gorilla Foundation and who worked with Michael until his death at 27, thinks that Michael’s mother might have been the victim of poaching”.

There was no information provided in the press release on how one purchases the ebooks or when they may become available. Doing a search on the “World Reader” site nothing turns up for either ‘Koko’s Kitten’ or ‘Michaels Dream’. So perhaps the this was a premature release.

Patterson and her partner in primates, Ronald Cohn, may have a dream for Michael but how ‘Mike’ arrived on the scene was nothing short of a nightmare for him and an infant female gorilla named “B.B.”. Both were victims of an arrangement Patterson made with an “animal dealer” in Vienna, Austria to purchase two infant gorillas for a total of $28,000 usd. The female, listed as “B.B.” (for Bridgette Bardot) was intended to be Koko’s replacement at the San Francisco Zoo. Sadly B.B. died soon after their arrival from what would have been a long, stressful, and traumatic journey from Cameroon (see below). The male was called “King Kong” and renamed Michael.

While doing time at Koko’s camp Michael (according to Patterson) used ASL (American Sign Language) to share the details about how his family was killed by poachers during Michael’s capture thus beginning his nightmare into the gorilla trade. It’s quite remarkable that all these years later Michael would have an opportunity to tell his story to none other than Patterson, the person responsible for his departure from Cameroon. This is nothing short of a miraculous coincidence like no other. See video below from Kokoflix and further down you’ll see just how bizarre this story really is. You cannot make this stuff up.

Now if Michael’s story isn’t bad enough there’s a lot more than what he’s able to communicate in any video. Whether you believe Michael’s own story or not it’s likely he was in fact the victim of poaching. From the human side of this twisted tale there’s no doubting Patterson purchased Michael and “BB” from a “dealer” in Vienna for $28,000, I mean Patterson herself writes about it (see “Education of Koko” Patterson & Linden 1981).

Those are the facts but let’s put some of  the pieces together, shall we?

  1. In 1976 Patterson desperately needed a female infant replacement gorilla for the San Francisoc Zoo so she could keep Koko all to herself. The SF Zoo wasn’t going to simply turn over Koko, a moneymaking female without a fight (gorilla babies = big $$$$ for zoos) and apparently not without a replacement
  2. Through her connections Patterson had incredible luck finding not one but TWO infant gorillas from a shady dealer dude in Vienna, for a price. The female would go to the zoo and Patterson would have the male all to herself
  3. Patterson’s Gorilla Foundation is all about conserving the gorilla species right? So what could possibly be wrong with buying two infant gorillas from a dealer in Vienna “with a long history of trafficking infant gorillas”?
  4. While doing time at TGF Michael managed to miraculously share a remarkable story interpreted by none other than Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson about how his family was murdered by poachers so that he could be sold and exported by a dealer in Vienna who just so happenened to have a customer in the U.S. waiting for an infant gorilla, or two
  5. Return to #1 and start over

Twisted right?

See below from the International Primate Protection League, September 1977. Seems the officials were not too thrilled on how all this went down, but once again Patterson got her way, as always.

 

Screenshot 2016-08-07 at 09.11.05

Screenshot 2016-08-07 at 09.10.06Screenshot 2016-08-07 at 09.10.29

Click here for the full IPRL newsletter

And below we have the story in Patterson’s own words from “The Education of Koko” by Francine Patterson & Eugene Linden © 1981

The Education of Koko, Patterson/Linden

From the book- “Then in 1976 Barbet Schroeder, the film director, put us in touch with an animal dealer in Vienna who was offering an infant female and an infant male gorilla for $28,000. When an animal dealer offers wild-born infants for sale, on can usually assume that the infants were “harvested” through the gruesome expedient of shooting the mother. In this case the dealer told us that he obtained the two gorillas in Cameroon, and that they were orphaned after natives had eaten their parents. We were in no position to verify this story about the gorillas’ provenance, and, ultimately, we overcame our qualms and decided to buy the two. The idea was that we could then give the female to the zoo as a replacement for Koko and keep the male to be Koko’s eventual mate.

This left the simple matter of raising $28,000 to pay for the two infants. Together Ron and I had enough money to put down payment on one gorilla. We still had a shortfall of about $21,000. At this point the media proved invaluable. Since the beginning of the project, my work with Koko had attracted a considerable amount of media interest. I would like to think that this attention derived solely from the awesome import of being able to converse with another animal, but I have had to accept that part of it centers on the supposed drama of a woman working with a “ferocious beast.” In any event, during the The Education of Koko by Francine Patterson & Eugene Linden © 1981 All signed words (those made in American Sign Language) are indicated in italics. 46 period when we were trying to raise the money to buy the two baby gorillas, I would mention Koko’s precarious future to the reporters who requested interviews. The local press took up my problems as a cause.

The two baby gorillas arrived on September 9, 1976. Their names were listed as King Kong and B.B, (short for Brigitte Bardot). We took it as our fist obligation to rescue them from their unfortunate names. King Kong we renamed Michael, but we never got a chance to rename poor B.B. The rigors of her travels proved to be too much for her frail constitution, and in spite of our desperate efforts to nurse her back to health, she died of pneumonia within a month of her arrival.” Click here for ‘The Education of Koko’ in PDF

Sadly, in 2000 at the age of twenty seven Michael passed away suddenly of heart failure.

Directly and indirectly, Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson and her Foundation perpetuated both Michael and B.B.’s nightmares and they should not be allowed to make a dime from Michael’s life. Of course there’s nothing stopping Patterson from doing exactly that. There’s no stopping her, there never has been.

“Gorilla Mountain, the Make Believe Home of Koko and Ndume”

White guy asks “when is it okay to call the police?”

Updated June 14, 2020

So this happened yesterday during the early morning walk with the pups on High Street near Brookdale Park. From across High Street I saw a man on all fours trying to stand up with great difficulty. The time was around 8:30am on a Saturday morning with light traffic and I considered crossing the street to see if I could help but my two pups had other things on their minds. After a minute the man managed to upright himself, then suddenly without warning he abruptly staggered out into the street mid-block stopping traffic in both directions. He somehow remained upright and miraculously arrived to this side of High Street without incident and navigated his way to the corner bus stop where he slammed himself into the seats.

High Street and Brookdale, Oakland

High Street and Brookdale, Oakland

I approached and asked if he was okay? “I’ve been better” was his reply. He was obviously extremely intoxicated with bloody cuts and scrapes on his hands. He also had a swollen eye and large painful looking scrapes on his cheek and forehead.

I asked if he knew where he was? He said “no”. I asked where he was from? “Santa Rosa” was the answer. I told him he was in Oakland. He looked really confused. How did you get here? He couldn’t remember. He asked me where Amtrak is? I explained but he was unable to comprehend anything I was trying to say. I asked “what happened to your face and hands?” He said he was jumped and beaten somewhere, couldn’t remember where or the reason.

I explained that I wanted to help him and asked if there was anyone I could call? He mumbled something about his kids and he managed to give me a phone number. I asked him his name before calling the number. A female answered and I said “hello my name is John and I’m in Oakland. Ray is here with me. Do you know Ray?”  “Yes” was her reply and I felt immediate relief.

I went on to explain that he seems to have been beaten up overnight, not too serious but he does need some help. I said he’s not functioning very well and I’m afraid for his safety. I asked if she was able to come for him or did she know of someone I could call for help? Without hesitation the woman said “no, I’m about an hour and half away and he’s burned all bridges with me. Thanks for being concerned but I cannot help him and I don’t know anyone else who can” and she hung up the phone.

I told Ray that she was unable to help and he seemed okay or unfazed with that.

At this point I wasn’t sure what else I could do for Ray, all I knew was that I could not in good conscience leave him alone in this condition. I said I would try to get help and stepped away for a minute so my dogs could do their thing.

Without other options I phoned the non-emergency number for Oakland Police Department and explained the situation. The dispatcher was friendly and caring, she told me she’d send an officer over. I told her I’d wait until the police arrived.

Two OPD officers arrived in about 5 minutes time. They spoke with me separately asking me a few questions before approaching Ray who was still seated in the bus stop.

I left the scene and walked my dogs around the park. As I returned I watched one of the officers handcuff Ray leading him toward a squad car. I crossed the street as the other officer crossed toward me. He explained they would be charging Ray with public intoxication and locking him up to sober up. I thanked the officer for their ‘help’.

The officers seemed kind, caring, and non-judgmental and for the most part I felt a sense of relief they were taking over. I looked at Ray and he looked back at me and said “you called the cops, why?”. Suddenly everything changed. He looked even more broken. In that split second everything changed and I thought what have I done?

Everything changed when I saw him in handcuffs. Did I do the right thing?

Everything changed when I saw him in handcuffs. Did I do the right thing? (This photo is from the net)

Ray is African American, I am white. In my lifetime I have had only good positive experiences with police so it seemed like a reasonable solution for me to call OPD.

When I made the call I wasn’t considering color, his history, or culture. As a black male, what experiences with police has Ray had? I couldn’t know. I then started thinking about the neighborhood and community I am proud to call home. My neighborhood is primarily black. I love East Oakland, rich in culture and community, there’s no other place I’d rather be. I worried if neighbors watching are seeing me as the white dude who called the cops on a black guy. The cops thanked me the white dude as they hauled the black guy away. Yes the cops thanked me for calling which somehow made me feel worse….. The white cop just thanked me the white guy for calling police on the black guy as they’re hauling him away…. In that moment I felt deeply for Ray. I also felt extreme guilt for any harm I may have caused him. Did I do the right thing? Did I help Ray or make matters worse for him?

This happened yesterday morning and I’ve been thinking about it for over 24 hours now. It’s weighing heavy on my mind.

Did I do the right thing? When is it okay to call the police?

Update June 14, 2020

What I’ve learned since this experience:

  1. Do not assume I have have solutions.
  2. Reach out to the black community, and follow direction.
  3. Ask if I may be of help (and be okay with not helping, or taking a back seat).
  4. Only call police if it’s a critical life or death situation.
  5. Be humble.
  6. Be an ally.
  7. Be a voice.
  8. And that “Matter” is the minimum. 

Is Koko’s Gorilla Foundation Exploiting the Tragic Death of Robin Williams?

First off, there’s no denying the video of Koko the gorilla meeting Robin Williams is magical. Koko and Robin definitely hit it off, and why wouldn’t they? She’s a humanized gorilla with a nipple fetish and Robin (on this day) was her new boy-toy bosom buddy. The set up is a comedian’s wet dream.

But seriously, why would Penny and Ron even tell Koko about the tragic death of Robin Williams? Oh that’s right, they claim Koko overheard phone conversations before coming to Penny “with an inquisitive look on her face”. Well the story on their website has evolved since it first appeared, tweaking it up for dramatic affect? In fact, they must have been in a hurry because the latest version (as of this writing) has a few holes/typos (see below excerpt). In the original piece Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson was called “Koko’s surrogate Mom” but that reference disappeared the following day.

From Koko’s website:

“August 11, 2014

In 2001, Robin Williams was invited to meet Koko, the gorilla who communicates in sign language, at The Gorilla Foundation in northern California (see photo above). We had no idea what to expect, but everyone was in for a treat, and they became very special friends.

On Monday, Aug. 122, the day news broke of Williams’ passing, Koko and Penny and Ron (Drs. Patterson and Cohn) were together when phone calls started coming in about the sad event.  After the first all, Koko came to Dr. Patterson with an inquiring look on her face.  Dr. Patterson explanied that “we have ost a dear friend, Robin Williams.”  Koko wa quiet and looked very thoughtful (see photo bottom left).

More phone calls about the news came in, and Koko overheard one from a former colleague who had worked with Williams while he filmed a public service announcement for The Gorilla Foundation (based on his visit with Koko) in 2003.  The colleague’s voice broke at the end of the conversation.  About a half an hour later, Koko signed to Penny:  “CRY LIP” (LIP is Koko’s sign for woman).

At the end of the day, Koko became very somber, with her head bowed and her lip quivering (see photo bottom right).”

Click here for Gorilla Foundation Website “Koko Remembers Robin Williams”.

What about those two images of Koko looking “thoughtful” and “somber with her head bowed?” I worked as a TGF Gorilla Caregiver from 2009-12 and can assure you I’ve seen this very same thoughtful somber bowed look on Koko five days a week every week for three years. This is Koko’s look, well a frequent one anyway. She’s a sad somber looking gorilla. The truth is she catnaps sitting up with her head bowed and lip drooping several times throughout the day. At night Koko will sometimes sleep in this position too. She likes it or it feels comfortable for her. Koko’s droopy lip was/is a daily topic in staff discussions, journal entries, emails, and phone calls with Penny.

We staff knew of and talked about Koko’s visits from Robin Williams and other celebrities but I never once heard mention of the following claim issued by the Koko camp, “Robin made Koko smile — something she hadn’t done for over 6 months, ever since her lifelong gorilla companion, Michael, passed away at the age of 27.”

And finally, Drs. Patterson and Cohn didn’t think to videotape (for scientific purposes) the somber scene as Penny broke the news to Koko, like they did when spilling the beans after her kitty friend ‘All Ball’ was killed by a truck?

Really?

koko_thoughtful_IMG_5723

TGF says “Koko responds to the news of Robin’s passing”. Oh yeah? Well this is how she responds to just about everything.

koko_somber_remembers

TGF says “Koko looks somber after it sinks in”. Interesting because this is how she naps all day every day, sitting upright with a droopy lip. She looks sad every day. Helloooo, she’s lived alone in a trailer for more than 40 years, talk about #depression