Patterson: Well, he was a bushmeat orphan. [Poachers] butchered his parents in front of him. He described that on camera once, actually. Early on, [researcher] Barbara Weller asked him, “Who is your mother?” He said “You.” And she said, “No, your gorilla mother.” And then, he started into this story.
Morin: What did he say?
Patterson: He was using all types of new gestures to show what he saw, like “cut” and “neck.” There was another one where it looked he was showing spots on his face, probably blood. They were nonstandard gestures.
Morin: Did he seem traumatized by that experience?
Patterson: He was really traumatized. Anytime a male worker came around, especially those doing tree work, he would just run over and scream at them. [The incident with his parents] may have involved traps and trees. We don't know what happened. He also would scream in the middle of the night in his nightmares.
Morin: Did he ever communicate the substance of those nightmares?
Patterson: Yes, the night after he screamed I asked him [about that] and got a very similar story.
Morin: I’m working on a project collecting dreams from around the world, but I’ve just been focusing on human dreams so far. Maybe I’m limiting myself. Has Koko shared any with you?
Patterson: This is really weird, but you know that movie Jurassic Park? They saturated the media with ads that were very graphic with dinosaurs eating humans and all kinds of things. Well, Koko saw them, and several days later one of our caregivers reported her acting very strangely towards her toy dinosaurs and alligators. She was acting as though they were real, and was very frightened of them, and didn't want to touch them. She was using tools to get them away from her. I do believe she had a nightmare about them.
Morin: Does she move around in her sleep or make vocalizations that lead you to believe that she's dreaming?
Patterson: We have a video on her all the time and we catch sign-like gestures, but I don’t remember any of them right now.
Morin: You mentioned before in the case of Barbara Weller that Michael saw her as a kind of mother. Do you feel that way with Koko?
Patterson: Oh yeah, the maternal instinct is raging with a baby gorilla! I would much prefer to have a baby gorilla than a baby human.
Morin: Koko herself has expressed her desire to be a mother, hasn’t she?
Patterson: Very much so. She takes on that role with her kittens. She tries to hold them up to nurse, but of course she doesn't understand the mechanics of that. We've tried to set up a family situation where that would work, but one-on-one is not a social unit for gorillas.
Morin: They need to be in a troop to mate?
Patterson: It takes a village.
Morin: What kinds of research are you currently working on with Koko?
Patterson: Basically, to expand and pay attention to the many ways she communicates with us in more sophisticated, subtle ways. We’re also learning to pay attention to her use of things in her environment. Not just things with words, but positioning objects over time. I forgot to mention that in terms of time. I noticed once that Koko somehow had put a cover over a small table [in her room] and the underneath part was private. The first thing that appeared under there was a Koko doll that we had made for her—a plush gorilla. The next day I came in, there was a larger gorilla doll next to it. The next day, there was a baby in between them. So, she told a story.