The Very Last Chimposium

In the Garden of Eva

It has always been a dream of mine to have a “meaningful exchange” with an intelligent being of another species, and the being I usually have in mind is a chimpanzee. This past weekend, my boyfriend and I got awfully close to fulfilling my dream.

On Saturday, Paul and I drove two hours southeast of Seattle to the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI) in Ellensburg, Washington. During our “chimposium” we heard a lecture, spoke with some of the student researchers, and observed two of the famous “signing chimps”: Loulis and Tatu. Tatu was raised by humans and taught American Sign Language as if she were a deaf child, but Loulis learned ASL from his adoptive chimpanzee mother, Washoe, making him the first non-human to learn a human language from another non-human.

I knew all about these chimps, and the Institute, because I had recently read Next of Kin: My…

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