Thursday 8 December 2016

Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch faces case of Koko the admiring gorilla

Published 07/06/2016 | 00:06

Benedict Cumberbatch has an unusual admirer - Koko the gorilla
Benedict Cumberbatch has an unusual admirer - Koko the gorilla

Benedict Cumberbatch has attracted a rather unusual admirer - a gorilla.

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The Sherlock star is known for being a favourite with female fans and, according to a new BBC documentary, his charms have also worked on a western lowland gorilla named Koko.

The ape was raised with humans, after being studied by a graduate student named Penny Patterson in 1971, and it has been claimed that she can communicate through American Sign Language.

Documentary producer Bridget Appleby told the Radio Times that Koko fell for Cumberbatch's voice after watching DVDs of his work.

"Apparently she has a big crush on him," she said.

"She loves English men."

She developed a love for English accents, said the producer, during sittings for renowned artist Richard Stone.

Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks To People looks at the relationship between Dr Patterson and the ape, who lives in a compound near the Stanford University campus.

The gorilla was loaned to Dr Patterson for her doctoral research as a baby, and has stayed with her ever since.

After starting with symbols for "eat", "drink", and "more", Dr Patterson has claimed that Koko can understand more than 1,000 signs, and can use them to construct phrases of her own.

Appleby said: "What can be so startling is that because she's been brought up with people, she has similar mannerisms, similar gestures, and you do feel that there's a familiarity that you wouldn't normally expect to have with an animal.

"You feel like you're on the same level of communication, even without the sign language."

The central issue of whether apes can learn sign language is in dispute, with experts claiming that results of studies are inconclusive.

But Dr Patterson, now 70, defends the life she's given Koko, saying: "She's not a pet. But the fact that Koko can love, that we can love each other even though we're different species, really gets people thinking deeply about life. And that's what we need to do."

:: This week's Radio Times is on sale on Tuesday June 7.

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