US researchers say goodbye to beloved chimp

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WASHINGTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) Washoe, the chimpanzee researchers said was the first non-human to acquire a human language, was being remembered by some as a dear friend and an inspiration.

Washoe, who died yesterday night at age 42 after a brief illness, first learned American Sign Language in a research project in Nevada, according to the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI) where she had lived since 1980.

Founders of the chimpanzee research institute on the campus of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, said Washoe was a treasured member of their family.

A memorial service will be held on November 12.

''Washoe was an emissary, bringing us a message of respect for nature. She was a dear friend to so many; we will miss her,'' said CHCI co-founders Roger and Deborah Fouts.

Many scientists were skeptical of Washoe's ability to communicate with humans but all agreed that she prompted a great deal of excitement and debate, The New York Times said.

Washoe, named for the Nevada county where she lived until age 5, was the matriarch of the family housed at the institute dedicated to the study of the chimpanzee's communication skills and behavior.

''Being the first chimpanzee to learn a human language and pass it on to her adopted son, Washoe is truly unique,'' Friends of Washoe, a non-profit support group, said on its Web Site.

Fans of Washoe were invited to post tributes of their own at www.friendsofwashoe.org.

''I only just heard about you Washoe, and now you are gone,'' one admirer wrote. ''Reading so many tributes and how much you meant to so many brings a huge lump in my throat and then tears.'' REUTERS SZ HS0911

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