The two remaining chimpanzees at Central Washington University are being moved to a sanctuary in Canada.
The university’s Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute was made famous by the late Washoe, a chimp that successfully learned American Sign Language and taught other chimps to use it.
Washoe arrived at CWU in 1980, and a year later, the nonprofit Friends of Washoe group was formed. After the death of a 36-year-old chimp, Dar, last November, two chimps remain: 37-year-old Tatu and 35-year-old Loulis. Friends of Washoe owns the chimps and makes decisions based on the best welfare of the primates.
With uncertainty surrounding state funding and the time needed – possibly as much as a year – to upgrade a facility to welcome more chimpanzees into the program, Friends of Washoe instead has decided to move Tatu and Loulis to the 200-acre Fauna Foundation sanctuary in Quebec, said Greg Beach, the group’s chairman.
“The overriding concern was the welfare of Tatu and Loulis,” Beach said.
Their departure will mark the first time since 1980 that CWU will not have chimpanzees as part of the institute, university spokeswoman Linda Schactler said.
“Although there is still some research that is coming out of that institute, it’s fallen off and has been trending toward a sanctuary,” she said. “There is an enormous legacy here. There are 33 years of notes, videos and pictures. There is a lot of information yet to be pulled from that data.”
The degree programs still offered at CWU do not require direct contact or observation of live animals, Schactler said.
The Canadian sanctuary already has 11 chimpanzees, and its founder, Gloria Grow, came to the institute in Ellensburg in 1995 as a volunteer.
Schactler said the sanctuary built an enclosure similar to the one in Ellensburg to provide the chimpanzees familiar surroundings. In addition, the sanctuary has a staff member who is a graduate of the CWU program, which means Tatu and Loulis will be able to communicate.
“The sign language that was passed on from Washoe is used every day (by Tatu and Loulis) to communicate with their caregivers,” she said. Washoe died in 2007.
Beach said the move would be permanent. The Friends of Washoe and CWU don’t plan to bring more chimpanzees to Ellensburg. Friends of Washoe will pay to move the chimpanzees and for their future care.