Animal lovers space in mourning ~ the death of Michael, a western lowland gorilla who was one of two gorillas in the people to know sign language, follow to his handlers.

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The 27-year-old, 450-pound gorilla was stated to have mastered more than 600 gestures in American authorize Language at the moment of his death Wednesday, though animal experts disagree on the capability of gorillas to use person language.

Michael was one of three gorillas housed in ~ The Gorilla Foundation, a preserve located 25 miles south of san Francisco. Michael"s caregiver experienced him collapse top top his back in a play area just prior to 11 a.m. And noticed the animal had labored breathing. He died shortly after.

"We room deeply saddened by the ns of our dear girlfriend Michael. He has been an inspiration to us all. He had actually a an excellent facility with gestural communication and was a talented artist," stated Francine Patterson, the foundation"s president.

Patterson is credited with teaching the an ext famous gorilla Koko, Michael"s lifelong friend, an ext than 1,000 ASL gestures. Patterson started working through Koko as soon as the gorilla was one year old, first at the san Francisco Zoo in 1972, later on in a trailer at Stanford University, and finally in Woodside.

Koko, 28, has been the topic of books, videos and documentary films. In 1998, Koko even took part what to be billed together the first "interspecies" conversation on the Internet. An ext than 8,000 AOL members logged on to ask Koko questions and also see she responses typed in by a translator. Koko eventually ended up being uninterested after ~ 45 minutes and also began playing through her dolls.

Koko also made headlines in the 1980s once she got a pets kitten she called "All Ball", who was later eliminated by a car.

Michael involved the foundation in 1976 once he to be 3 year old. He to be intended together a mate because that Koko, but she was no interested in him. An additional gorilla called Ndume is likewise housed at the foundation, though the animal is not well-known to connect with gestures like Koko and also Michael.

Attempts at sign language communication with primates have actually been controversial. Professionals are split over even if it is apes have actually the capability to usage language; doubters maintain the apes who usage gestures or signs are simply imitating researcher in bespeak to acquire rewards or room responding come humans" unconscious cues.

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Although gorillas space prone to heart disease, it is unclear what eliminated Michael and an autopsy will be performed, claimed Gillian Ladd, an assistant to Patterson. Gorillas deserve to live into their 50s.