Judge: Solve Dispute Over Pal to Sign-Language Gorilla Koko

CINCINNATI (AP) -
Ndume, the silverback gorilla, picks up a toy at The Gorilla Foundation’s preserve in California’s Santa Cruz mountains. (Ron Evans/Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden via AP, File)

A judge has ordered the Cincinnati Zoo and a conservatory to resolve a custody dispute over a gorilla loaned as a companion to the late Koko, who was famous for mastering sign language.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg recommended out-of-court mediation Monday, writing that the zoo and The Gorilla Foundation appear to value what’s best for the 37-year-old silverback gorilla named Ndume. The organizations have until Thursday to submit a joint proposal.

The zoo sued in October for Ndume’s return. The gorilla was loaned to the California-based foundation in 1991 under a contract revised to guarantee his transfer after Koko’s death.

Zoo officials claim Ndume has since lived in isolation to his detriment. The foundation says a transfer would harm him and pose unnecessary risk.