Dr. Joanne Tanner's Biography

    Dr. Joanne Tanner became interested in some of the “big questions” about the evolution of language when she began to work as a volunteer companion to the sign-language using gorilla Koko in 1980. At that time she already had a Bachelor’s degree in music performance (1965) from Oberlin College. She returned to school in 1989 as a graduate student and teaching assistant in anthropology at UC Santa Cruz with Dr. Adrienne Zihlman, and then went on to earn a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Psychology, awarded in 1998 from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland with Dr. Richard Byrne as advisor. Dr. Tanner’s research is on the untaught gestural communication of the gorillas at the San Francisco Zoo. Dr. Tanner has taught Primate Behavior as a temporary lecturer at UCSC, andcontinued to research and write, publishing journal articles and a book chapter (see list of publications).  Her research at the San Francisco Zoo has been featured as a part of two National Geographic specials in a series called "Who's Aping Who?" and has also been noted in a Discovery Channel show, "Conversations with Koko."  Please see the Publications page for Dr. Tanner’s most recent publications.

    As well as being appreciative of the input of many mentors over the years, Joanne is extremely grateful for the continuing collaboration of husband Charles L. Ernest, who has been cameraman, video editor, and computer troubleshooter for nearly 20 years.


- Dr. Joanne Tanner

- Charles Ernest



SF Zoo Gorillas

Gorilla Gestures Intro


- Why Create Gestures

- Tactile

- Visual

- Audible

- Iconic

- Imitation

- Phrases/Exchanges

- Other Zoos

- Gesture Table

- Triadic Play Intro

- Triadic Play Research


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