Sunday, August 01, 1999

Ex-zoo gorilla wins Koko's love




BY JIM KNIPPENBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Do we have this right? A session of gorilla video dating is about to make a former Cincinnati Zoo gorilla a star?

        Yep. Turns out PBS' Nature is running A Conversation With Koko Aug. 8. The documentary, shot at Northern California's Gorilla Foundation, is about Koko. The 28-year-old western lowland gorilla has a 1,000-word vocabulary in sign language. Which is to say she talks a lot — about emotions, hopes, fears — with Penny Patterson, her friend and teacher. Nature shows all that, and also how Koko picked a mate.

        In '91 Patterson showed Koko videos of other gorillas. When a dude named Ndume came up, Koko kissed the screen and signed, “Koko love.”

        Turns out Ndume (in-DO-me) was here. He's the son of Ramses and Rosie (the 25-year-old Cincinnati gorilla now roaming Gorilla World carrying Chaka's baby — Ndume's half sibling).

        “When that happened, Ndume had just come back to Cincinnati,” says general curator Mike Dulaney. “He went on loan to Brookfield (Chicago) in '88 and fathered three children. They sent him back here in August of '91 because he was teaching the other gorillas bad habits.”

        Come again.

        “He threw things. Everything. If there weren't carrots or fruits available, he'd throw, well, you get the picture. He wasn't working as an exhibit animal. But the Gorilla Foundation isn't open to the public so it worked out fine. He left here Dec. 10, 1991.”

        Although the 18-year-old, 400-pound gorilla is a proven breeder, Ndume hasn't done the deed. The Foundation is keeping Koko and Ndume apart until it can build a new reserve on Maui.

        LEAP OF ARTS: Meanwhile, in the artsy world, a local artist who's already big is getting bigger.

        Gayle Hummel — she shows at Closson's and galleries in New York and Naples, Fla. — has been asked to show eight paintings, oils mostly, in Sea Island, Ga., at the Cloisters Plantation, an upscale resort where rooms start about $300 a night.

        Big money there, but that's not new to Hummel. The late Princess Diana bought one of her paintings. There's one in the White House. In Los Angeles, she's handled by Valerie Fitzgerald, a real estate agent who specializes in celebrity homes (Sylvester Stallone, Winona Ryder, Mike Tyson). Fitzgerald sells houses, then supervises redecoration, including selection of art. That puts Hummel in some pricey digs. And now, Georgia.

        INTO EGYPT: Hmmm. Looks as if we better brace for an invasion of Chicagoans. New Yorkers, too.

        Seems Chicago Tribune travel writer Michael Kilian did a bit of a rave on Mysteries of Egypt, the Omnimax film and exhibit at the Museum Center.

        “Huge, visitor-friendly (if kinda eerie),” he says, “300 ordinary and quite extraordinary objects from that earliest of civilizations ... at the Cincinnati Museum Center, a complex that's rather extraordinary itself.” He made special mention of Tutankhamen, whose tomb is recreated in the exhibit. Guess that's what Killian found “kinda eerie.”

        This on the heels of a Dwight Silverman travel piece in late June in The New York Times, which also included the show.

        Knip's Eye View appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Have an item to report? Call Jim Knippenberg at 768-8513; fax: 768-8330.

        Psst! appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Have an item to report? Call Jim Knippenberg at 768-8513; fax: 768-8330.

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