Washoe dies, chimpanzee community grieves

November 1, 2007 • Posted in

Project R&R was deeply saddened to learn yesterday of the passing of Washoe Chimpanzee. She was 42 years old. Washoe gained public attention for her ability to learn sign language — the first non-human to acquire a human language.

Washoe was born in Africa, around September of 1965. Captured in the wild, she was taken from her mother and brought to the United States for the Air Force. Later Drs. Allen and Beatrix Gardner acquired her for their language research.  She was cross-fostered/raised in the Gardners’ home as if she were a deaf human child. She moved with Dr. Roger Fouts and Deborah Fouts to the University of Oklahoma in 1970 and went with them to Central Washington University’s Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI) in 1980.

Washoe was the matriarch of her chimpanzee family and was known for her humor, intelligence and kindness toward both her chimpanzee and human family and friends.

Rachel Carrico-Fouts, daughter of Roger and Deborah Fouts, shared:

“I am deeply saddened today, and realized … that I do not know a world without Washoe…. Her life was the catalyst of so many things for my family, I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for the lessons, friendship, and influence of Washoe in my life. Our family loved her, and will truly miss her, but know that she is in a much better place, now, no longer held captive.” 

Project R&R extends our heartfelt condolences to the Foutses, Loulis, Tatu, and Dar, and everyone who knew and loved Washoe,” says Dr. Theodora Capaldo, NEAVS President. “Washoe is one of the hundreds of chimpanzees who have helped us learn not only about them, but as importantly, about ourselves.”

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