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The pictures of the chimpanzees on this page are not from the Chimposium. Photography was strictly verboten.

Central Washington University: Home of the Chimposium

OK … Its time to fess up… the real reason we visited Ellensburg, wasn’t for the historic downtown or surrounding beauty. We came to attend a Chimposium at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute located on the campus of Central Washington University. What’s a Chimposium? … you may ask. Well, it is simply a one hour educational workshop involving the world renowned signing chimpanzees. Begun in 1966, this research project has four chimpanzees that use American Sign Language to answer questions, make requests and describe activities in their interactions with humans and with each other.

Danny was a bit disappointed. He apparently misread the brochure and thought we would be listening to "singing chimpanzees."

After paying a ten dollar tuition we were given a brief lecture on free living chimpanzee culture, the history of the matriarch Washoe, taught a few words using sign language, and shown the etiquette required for meeting Washoe and her family (submissive hunched posture, no smiles or showing of teeth). After the lecture we were able to observe Washoe and her family “reading” their favorite magazines, drawing pictures and signing. Because of this experience, we will forever be concerned about the destruction of the chimps’ habitat, and chimpanzees in captivity who are deprived of the stimulation they require. In addition, we will boycott products that use chimps in their ads, since these animals  are mistreated to produce the grimace that we mistake for a cute smile.

Later that afternoon, we wandered around the rest of the attractive campus and admired the old brick buildings and mature trees. Originally established as the Washington State Normal School in 1891, the college underwent a name change in 1977 when it became Central Washington University. Barge Hall (1894) is the oldest building on campus and is quite striking with its high Victorian design.


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