Leaving their mark – even apes love to paint.

Posted on August 31, 2011


Painting by Doc

The art world has mourned many great painters over the years. Some have lived to a ripe ole age, other have died young like this next painter, who didn’t even make it to his 30th. He wasn’t plagued by drink or drug problems. He was a much-loved individual who was described as having a “gentle gaze” which makes his death all the more sad for those who knew him.

Yesterday afternoon medical experts took the decision to euthanise him following a heart condition that saw no sign of improving. Doc died age 27.

Doc - Bornean orangutan

Doc, was a Bornean orangutan. He was born at the Dallas Zoo on Christmas Day in 1984 and moved to Houston Zoo when he was 3 years old.

During his time in captivity he produced two offspring, 8-year-old Solaris and a recent addition to his family, 5-month-old Aurora.  But Doc was no ordinary ape, he loved to paint and his skills impressed the staff at the zoo, so much so his work even featured in an exhibition.

Doc and his son Solaris

Houston Zoo Assistant Curator of Primates Lynn Killam said: “He created beautiful paintings that were exhibited during “Pongos Helping Pongos” art exhibits that raised funds for orangutan conservation.

“Doc was quite contemplative when working on the canvas, using light small strokes with plant leaves that showed his intelligent and gentle nature.”

Another painting by Doc

Now you might think Doc’s artistic flare is unique. But there have been several captive apes who have also shown a love of painting. Koko, a female lowland gorilla born in 1971 at San Francisco Zoo is an avid painter.

Koko, the world's most famous gorilla, with Dr. Francis (Penny) Patterson, at the Gorilla Foundation

Her teacher, Dr Penny Patterson, began working with Koko as a Ph.D. project at Stanford, thinking it would only be a 4-year study. Thirty odd years later, Penny and Koko continue to work together at the Gorilla Foundation in one of the longest interspecies communication projects. The foundation’s aim is to improve the treatment of captive gorillas and protect free-living gorillas from extinction.

Koko a lowland gorilla

Koko paints abstract art and her work has even fooled some critics who were asked to evaluate her work. Little did they realise it was produced by a gorilla. Koko is also able to sign more than 1000 words in the English language.

Koko's painting entitled "Pink Pink Stink Nice Drink"

Koko painted her own rendition of a photo she saw that contained a valley with a stream banked by beautiful pink flowers. “Stink” is Koko’s sign for flowers, “drink” is her sign for water, and she named the painting herself.

Posted in: A tribute