Originally created 04/23/98

Gorilla is going online for a little chat



NEW YORK -- A gorilla who understands sign language will go online next week in what is being called the first interspecies chat over the Internet.

Koko the gorilla will answer questions Monday on America Online. Her tutor, Francine Patterson, will translate questions between AOL users and Koko.

The chat will be held to highlight the plight of gorillas. It will be a belated celebration of Earth Day, which fell on Wednesday.

Koko will be at the Gorilla Foundation, a research center near San Francisco, during the chat.

Questioners from around the world will be able to type in their questions and have them relayed to Patterson, who will sign them to Koko. Patterson will translate Koko's responses and relay them to a typist.

The 26-year-old western lowland gorilla has been tutored for 25 years in American Sign Language. She understands a little more than 2,000 words of spoken English and has a working vocabulary of 500 signs, according to the Gorilla Foundation.

Koko is no stranger to computers. Apple Computer gave her one in the late 1980s.

The chat will begin at 7 p.m. EDT.