Facts about Washoe

Born: 1965
Birthplace: Africa
Best known as: Chimp who learned sign language


Washoe Biography

One of the world’s most famous chimpanzees, Washoe was the subject of an early attempt to teach human sign language to apes. University of Reno scientists Beatrix and Allen Gardner acquired Washoe as an infant, then spent four years trying to teach her American Sign Language. The experiments were later continued by Roger and Deborah Fouts, and Washoe eventually developed a vocabulary of over 200 different signs. While scientists disagreed on the precise nature of Washoe’s skills, she became famous as the first chimp to acquire human sign language. She died in 2007 at Central Washington University, where the Foutses had based their research operations since 1980. Washoe is the topic of Roger Fouts’s 1997 book Next of Kin.

Extra credit

Washoe was named for the Nevada county where she grew up… According to the Friends of Washoe website, Washoe’s birthdate was unknown but estimated to be September, 1965… Other signing apes include Nim Chimpsky and Koko the gorilla.