Washoe, the female chimpanzee who scientists say was the first non-human primate to learn sign language, passed away on Tuesday night. She was 42 years old.
Washoe was born and captured in West Africa, briefly used for research by the US Air Force, and finally adopted by psychologists Beatrix and R. Allen Gardner, who raised her in their home and treated her like a deaf human child.
She was then adopted by Roger and Deborah Fouts, the directors of Central Washington University's Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute. In her lifetime, Washoe mastered the use of more than 250 signs and even taught them to another chimpanzee. As reported by the New York Times
, she shared something else with humans, particularly women: an obsession with shoes.
“She always checked out your shoes, and if you had new ones she’d sign for you to show them to her,” Dr. Jensvold said. “Then she might sign something about the color. She was a real shoe lady that way.”