Chimp who learned ASL dies at 36

CWU Chimpanzee Who Learned American Sign Language Dies At 36

Ellensburg, WA — Dar, a chimpanzee at Central Washington University who learned how to use American Sign Language, has died at 36.

Dr. Mary Lee Jensvold, director of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, said the chimp died of unknown causes Saturday morning. An autopsy will be performed in the next few days.

“Dar signed throughout his life, teaching us about friendships between humans and nonhumans and the minds of chimpanzees,” Dr. Jensvold said. “He will be dearly missed.”

The institute says Dar was born August 2, 1976, at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamagordo, New Mexico. He was raised in a home and treated like a deaf, human child.

Dr. Roger Fouts and his wife, Deborah, created the CHCI when they came to Central Washington University in 1980. They wanted it to be a sanctuary for Washoe, the first chimpanzee to learn a human sign language, and her family.

Dar and another chimpanzee, Tatu, moved to Ellensburg in 1981 to live with Washoe, her adopted son, Loulis, and another signing chimpanzee, Moja. Moja died in 2002, and Washoe died in 2007. She was the only chimpanzee at CHCI born in Africa.

Loulis, who was born in 1978, was named for two caregivers — Louise and Lisa — at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, where he was born. He was transferred to Oklahoma with Fouts and Washoe ten months later before they moved to CWU. His biological mother remained at Yerkes and was used for medical research.

Loulis is the only one of the four chimpanzees that was not cross-fostered, meaning he wasn’t raised by humans.

[Photo credit: CHCI]