The Gorilla Foundation

World–famous foundation for the preservation of, and communication with, gorillas and apes expands its usage of the FileMaker Platform throughout the organization — and beyond.

The Gorilla Foundation uses the FileMaker Platform for storing and accessing the vast archive of multimedia data gathered through their interspecies communication research and care efforts.


  • Gorilla Foundation turns to FileMaker custom apps to study communication and behavior of world famous gorilla Koko and her mate, Ndume.


  • Non profit organzation, research


  • Gorilla Foundation created custom apps to capture communication and interations of gorillas.


  • FileMaker platform helps develop and maintain large, powerful apps quickly, with a small staff.

One platform, many uses

The Gorilla Foundation is no stranger to the FileMaker Platform. In an effort to catalog the organization’s donors and gifts, executive director Dr. Gary Stanley oversaw the development of a custom app using the FileMaker Platform several years ago. It worked so well that Dr. Stanley developed more custom apps to power the foundation’s back office operations, including online store backups, volunteer tracking, and human resources.

With the success of these apps, Dr. Stanley realized that he could also use the FileMaker Platform to do something even more innovative. He created several custom apps for scientists and researchers to use with iPad and iPhone when interacting with the organization’s biggest star — Koko, the world-famous signing gorilla. Known for her ability to communicate using American Sign Language (ASL), Koko offers a glimpse into the world of gorillas. Perhaps more importantly, she serves as a global icon for gorilla conservation.

Gorilla Diary app

The Gorilla Foundation

The Gorilla Diary app allows caregiver-researchers to enter coded notes about their sign conversations and experiences with gorillas Koko and Ndume, using a customized "virtual keypad" that facilitates data entry and leads to automatic tabulation and analysis of signs,

Dr. Stanley developed Gorilla Diary, a custom app for caregiver-researchers to catalog Koko’s (and her male companion, Ndume’s) communications and behaviors. “Caregivers use it all day long,” Dr. Stanley reported. “We created a custom keypad to catalog all of Koko’s signs, vocalizations, and behaviors — as well as those of Koko’s male companion, Ndume. Using iPad and iPhone devices, caregivers interact with Koko. They’re able to quickly tap the keypad to record each communication, and tap corresponding codes to indicate how a sign was modulated; whether it was spontaneous or in response to a question. Then, we can see how many times each sign or phrase was used, and in what context.” The app also allows the scientist/caregivers to discover which signs Koko uses most frequently, most recently, and lets them add new ones into the menu. “We’ve been recording codes for signs and phrases with handwritten notes for decades,” Dr. Stanley added. “Now we use a touchscreen code palette built into the app where we can conveniently enter the appropriate codes next to the corresponding sign or phrase as Koko expresses them. The app does all the tabulation and analysis, and enables us to produce sophisticated searches and reports.”

Gorilla Diary allows the researchers to explore questions about how Koko uses language, and how her use of language has evolved over time. They also use the app to discover how her language changes with respect to her environment and level of contentment with her caregivers. “If the FileMaker custom app did nothing more than record her coded signs, vocalizations and behaviors, that alone would be worth it,” Dr. Stanley said.

The Gorilla Foundation is developing an entire suite of apps to help the researcher-caregivers take optimal care of gorillas Koko and Ndume. These apps monitor nutrition, preventative care, and track medical records, weight, temperature, mood, behavior, training and enrichment — and connect directly to the Gorilla Diary. “For example, we’re adding form data to keep track of Koko’s moods and diet,” Dr. Stanley added.

One of the most powerful benefits of using the FileMaker Platform is that it’s so streamlined and both user- and developer-friendly. It helps us to develop and maintain large, powerful apps quickly, with a small staff.

— Gary Stanley, Ph.D. Executive Director The Gorilla Foundation
The Gorilla Foundation
The KokoSigns app allows users to search for signs by keyword or gestural description, and has access to Koko's entire 1000+ word ASL vocabulary.

KokoSigns app

It can be difficult to catalog all of Koko’s communications in real time, or even while watching her in videos. Not all of her caregivers know all of her (1000+) signs, which are a combination of ASL and some signs that she’s invented herself. So, to help the staff accommodate Koko’s vast vocabulary, Dr. Stanley decided to make the Gorilla Diary app link to a second app he created using the FileMaker Platform, KokoSigns.

“We developed KokoSigns to enable caregivers (and others) to look up Koko’s signs by either keyword or description,” Dr. Stanley explained. The app is powered by the ability of the FileMaker Platform to embed video into layouts. The app acts as a sign dictionary, with queries returning video clips of Koko, Penny (Koko’s lifelong teacher), or an assistant demonstrating the sign.

Multimedia apps improve workflow and deepen knowledge

The Gorilla Foundation also uses tabs within the layout of Gorilla Diary on iPad and iPhone to capture, categorize, and stream video. The video interface allows workers to enter data while watching the video. “We’re excited about the video time-coded entries,” Dr. Stanley said. “We can retrieve moments captured on video just by tapping scripted buttons.”

The Gorilla Foundation
KokoSigns are demonstrated by a combination of Koko photos and video clips, as well as videos of Dr. Penny Patterson (Koko's mentor) and an associate, demonstrating any differences between the way Koko does the sign and standard ASL (American Sign Language).

Apps are key for others to learn from Koko

“But the real breakthrough came when we realized that the KokoSigns app might be of great interest to both the general public and to other institutions taking care of great apes (i.e., zoos and sanctuaries),” Dr. Stanley continued. The Gorilla Foundation plans to develop and distribute a version of the KokoSigns app that everyone can use to learn to sign with Koko. The FileMaker KokoSigns app can be converted into an engaging tool to help caregivers, great apes and anyone who wants to learn to communicate with great apes — or humans — in sign language.”

According to Dr. Stanley, “FileMaker apps will allow us to enlist many more people to help us catalog thousands of hours of research data and video. And the compatibility with iOS means that we can make all of our custom apps feel like native iPhone and iPad apps. Using a familiar interface makes it easier for new people to get up to speed with our system.”

Richer collaboration and integrated workflow

The Gorilla Foundation’s apps exceeded the organization’s original vision for what FileMaker could achieve. “In particular,” says Dr. Stanley, “we created FileMaker apps to make a comprehensive repository for all of our multimedia research and care data. These apps have convenient links that integrate every aspect of our work. Now, all our caregivers and researchers can use iPad, iPhone, and laptops to share data at the same time — and not just with each other, but with consultants, colleagues, and partners across the globe.”

“One of the most powerful benefits of using the FileMaker Platform is that it’s so streamlined and both user- and developer-friendly. It helps us to develop and maintain large, powerful apps quickly, with a small staff. I can do most of the development myself, without having to hire outside consultants — and yet the same transparent developer interface makes it easy to engage consultants as needed (which has been rare). Like many non-profit organizations, we want our resources to go toward our mission. We need to concentrate our resources on gorilla study, care, communication, and global conservation of the species, not on large IT implementations. FileMaker helps us achieve that goal.”

For Client:

Gary Stanley, Ph.D.
Executive Director
The Gorilla Foundation

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