Washoe’s Passing

Washoe, our beloved friend, passed away on the evening of Tuesday, October 30, after a brief illness. At the time of her passing she was at home at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, with her family and closest friends.

Washoe was 42 years old, a long life for a female chimpanzee. Most females in captivity live an average of 33.5 years.

We would like, here, to answer a few of the commonly asked questions about Washoe’s passing.

Q: How did Washoe die?
A: According to Washoe’s physician, the best we can say right now is that she died of very old age. Veterinary doctors at Washington State University are completing an autopsy, and Washoe’s physician is consulting with them to determine additional details.

Q: What were Washoe’s last words?
A: Washoe did not sign the night she died.

Q: Will you get another chimpanzee to replace her?
A: Just as you cannot replace a sister or a mother in your family who has passed away, there is no “replacing” Washoe in this family. Currently, we have no plans to either introduce a new chimpanzee to this family or to introduce the remaining members of this family to another established group.

Q: How are Tatu, Dar, and Loulis dealing with the loss?
A: Washoe’s family has been very quiet since her death, very helpful and calm. They are just recently returning to a more typical energy level in their daily activities. Tatu did sign HURT to Roger and Deborah Fouts for a few days after Washoe’s death.

Q: Will the project continue?
A: At CHCI, we will continue to do what has always been our first priority–to provide the best home we possibly can for Washoe’s family. Research will carry on as well; we will continue to encourage students to develop interesting questions, and methods that are enjoyable and enriching for the chimpanzees. We also have video of Washoe, Moja, Tatu, Dar, and Loulis and written data to last several lifetimes of active research.

Q: What about the hierarchy? Who is the new alpha individual?
A: It is still too soon to determine any changes in the family’s hierarchy, and it may well be that no clearly dominant individual emerges. We are not instituting any artificial hierarchy; for example, we are not choosing to serve one family member before the rest during dinner, a privilege that used to be Washoe’s as the alpha individual.

Q: What can I do to help?
A: Consider making a donation to Friends of Washoe in Washoe’s name. This will help us continue to do what she did so well: care for her family. Instead of a direct donation, you might also consider donating a gift card to Costco, Target, Fred Meyer, Safeway, or similar establishments, so that we can purchase treats, enrichment items, and other things for the chimpanzees. If you’d like to directly support Washoe’s legacy, please consider donating to the CHCI Legacy Project, which is working to preserve the video record of the lives of Washoe and the other chimpanzees for generations to come. Write us at chci@cwu.edu for more information.

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2 Responses to Washoe’s Passing

  1. pavloveia says:

    I just learned yesterday (13 March 08) of Washoe’s passing and was broken hearted. I saw her picture on ABCNews.com. I was first introduced to her in Next of Kin and was so taken with her story. I know a great deal of knowledge was obtained during Washoe’s lifetime and she gave so much! She lived an exceptionally long life, but there are some that we wish could go on forever. Washoe was one of those lives. Thank you Washoe for all you taught to those who worked and lived with you. You were a great Chimpanzee and I’m honored to be so closely connected through our DNA.

  2. Debra says:

    There may be those who dispute that Washoe was a real person. They would argue that she was only an animal after all. So am I. I am a human animal. We share a long bloodline. She was not human, but she was humane. Too many humans fail to meet that standard.
    As a thought experiment, immagine that we came in contact with non-humans on another world. if theirs was a pre-technological culture, and they looked strange to us, how would we decide if they were people or not? We have failed to make that distinction accurately before- even with “odd looking” members of our own species.
    What a tragedy that we have found non-human people right here on earth… and are in the process of destroying their world, enslaving and performing experiments on the survivors that would give x-files fans the shivvers if they were directed at us. Our people are the invaders, less hostile than simply oblivious to the torment we inflict.
    She was a slave under american law. Property with some human-like atributes, as once negroes were property… lesser beings more closely related to monkeys than true men, according to the wisdom of the time. Educated negroes were “exceptions”, geniuses for their race rather than showing what all of them were capable of.
    At least that chapter of our history did not end in genocide. There are many black people in the world… but precious few like Washoe. How will we look our grandchildren in the eyes and explain what was allowed to happen in our lifetimes… how will we tell them that their cousins are dead, at the hands of their brothers?

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