In Africa, the poaching of gorillas is a common occurrence. Adults are hunted and butchered for meat, often leaving infant gorillas as orphans. One such “bushmeat orphan” named Michael was luckier than most. He was rescued at age three and sent to live with another gorilla named Koko who became like a brother to him. Both primates learned to paint and communicate well using American sign language.

Michael was once asked the question, “What can you tell me about your mother?” He responded in the same way several different times, signing words such as cry, sharp, noise, loud, trouble, cut, neck, and hole to describe a memory of his mother. Michael’s caretakers assume that he had likely witnessed his mother’s killing by poachers as a baby and carried that horrific memory from that moment forward.

Watch the heartbreaking video here