Koko the gorilla’s obsession with human nipples


In the mid-2000s, the Gorilla Foundation was sued by two former employees for sexual harassment. Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller alleged that Patterson pressured them to show their nipples to Koko. Patterson apparently thought this was for Koko’s benefit; it was alleged in the lawsuit that Patterson once said, “Koko, you see my nipples all the time. You are probably bored with my nipples. You need to see new nipples. I will turn my back so Kendra can show you her nipples.” The Foundation strongly denied the claims at the time but settled with Alperin and Keller.

Safkow, who worked at the Gorilla Foundation several years after the Alperin and Keller suit was settled, said Koko remained intrigued by nipples. “It was just a given that you show your nipples to Koko,” he said. “Koko gets what Koko wants. We would even hold our nipples hostage from her until she took her pills.” This side of Koko is not presented to outsiders, he says. “It’s different when there’s a big donor. She wants to see their nipples, and points at her nipple and makes a grunting sound—but Penny would spin this to, ‘Nipple sounds like people and what she’s saying is she wants to see more people.’ ” (A similar “sounds like” dialogue appears in the AOL chat transcript from 1998.)

Safkow also recalls an incident when he was pressured to show his nipples to Koko in the presence of several other Gorilla Foundation employees. “At the time, Penny claimed Koko was depressed. We had afternoon ‘porch parties’ where we dressed up for Koko and acted goofy to cheer her up. Koko came up to the mesh between us and asked to see my nipples. It was embarrassing since other people were around, so I told her, ‘Later.’ Then Penny put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Do you mean that? I’m just asking because Koko really needs all the support she can get right now.’ ”

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