Friday, November 2, 2007

First Chimp to Sign Dies

A female chimpanzee believed to be the first nonhuman to acquire human language has died of natural causes at the Washington State research institute where she was kept.

Washoe, who first learned a bit of American Sign Language during a research project in Nevada, had been living on Central Washington University's Ellensburg campus since 1980. She had a vocabulary of about 250 words.

She died Tuesday night, according to Roger and Deborah Fouts, co-founders of The Chimpanzee and Human Communications Institute (CHCI) on the campus.

Washoe was born in Africa in about 1965.

She was taken to the veterinary hospital at Washington State University on Wednesday for a necropsy.

Her memorial will be on November 12.

The Fouts went to Central Washington from Oklahoma in 1980 to create a home for Washoe and other chimps.

"The entire CWU community and the Ellensburg community are feeling the loss of our friend, Washoe, one of our daughters," said CWU President Jerilyn S. McIntyre.

Washoe also taught sign language to three younger chimps who remain at the institute, university spokesperson Becky Watson said. They are Tatu, 31; Loulis, 29; and Dar, 31.

Washoe was named for Washoe County, Nevada, where she lived with Allen and Beatrix Gardner of the University of Nevada, Reno, from 1966 to 1970.

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