Do Animals have Soul?

A Gorilla’s “Soul”

by Rob English and Nancy Camorati

There is a story of Koko, a lowland gorilla who has been the subject of decades of ape language studies, who asked for a cat for her birthday. Upon choosing a kitten with no tail, Koko named her pet ‘All Ball’. All Ball and Koko bonded well and when All Ball passed away, Koko cried and communicated the words “Sad/frown” and “Sleep/cat”. Intrigued by this a staff member questioned her about death. It became evident that gorillas do know about death, they know they someday die from “Trouble/old”.

Did Koko have a “soul” in some sense? If not, what would we call that?

Certainly, the mathematician Rene Descartes was wrong to say that animals feel nothing and only make sounds and movements like any unfeeling clock (yes, he actually said such nonsense!).

I prefer to agree with Gary Kowalski, in whose book The Souls of Animals he asserts that “if animals can demonstrate traits of intelligence such as “empathy, compassion, fear, artistry and imagination” then they are our soul brothers and sisters.

Through stories, poetry and facts Mr. Kowalski slowly brings the reader to the realization that animals do experience previously thought uniquely human characteristics such as self-awareness, grief, dreams, a sense of right and wrong, artistic expression and appreciation of music.

He writes about animals that have demonstrated kindness and sympathy, self-sacrifice and shame. Also, creativity, taking for example Siri of Syracuse’s Burnett Park Zoo who fooled an art critic with her “lyrical, very, very beautiful” and “incredible” creations.

And really, anyone who makes a home for a dog or a cat understands that animals have souls, however we decide to define such phenomena.

Photo of Koko taken from Wikipedia and photo of gorilla around bushes by Francesco Ungaro from

Rob and Nancy are a members of People for Animal Rights, a grassroots organization in Central New York.

Contact People for Animal Rights
PO Box # 401,
Cleveland, NY 13042

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *