Here is an amazing story about how a chimp responds to human emotion. Chimpanzee Washoe is the first non-human to learn and communicate in American Sign Language. But that is not what makes her special!
Kat, her caretaker, was pregnant and missed her work for many weeks due to an unfortunate miscarriage. Washoe responded to Kat’s situation in a really unimaginable way!
The chimpanzee herself had lost two babies; one due to heart problems, while the other one named Sequoyah, due to staph infection at two months of age. She had gone through the same pain as Kat did. However, we would never expect an animal to be as reactive and responsive as a human being.
At first Annoyed but then…
Washoe was very annoyed with Kat when she returned. Kat apologised for missing work and told her about the baby, signing ‘MY BABY DIED’. Washoe stared at her and then looked down. She then fixed her gaze on Kat and signed ‘CRY’, touching her cheek and drawing her finger down towards the path of tear that comes from a human eye.The way Washoe consoled a mother on her miscarriage is just heartwarming.
Since Washoe herself had lost her babies, the researchers wanted her to raise a ten-month-old baby chimpanzee, Loulis. The word ‘BABY’ had tremendous power just by itself to excite an animal like Washoe. She was thrilled! She jumped, swayed, yelled and squealed with glee. She kept signing ‘MY BABY’.
The Refusal & Acceptance
When Loulis was given to her, she at first refused to raise the baby after knowing that it wasn’t Sequoyah as she had expected. But, it’s a mother’s heart. Washoe eventually approached Loulis, the two bonded from the very next day, and since then, she has been a devoted mother.
Washoe started to train Loulis in American Sign Language, the same way a human parent would teach their child. Loulis was a fast learner like Washoe. It just took him eight days to understand and demonstrate his first sign. Washoe taught us that with love and compassion we can overcome whatever difficulties life bring to us.
Washoe is no more, but she will always be remembered for her intelligence and sensitivity. Scientists have attempted to recreate Washoe’s treatment and teach ASL to other animals but failed. Maybe they just lacked a devoted and affectionate guide like Kat.
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