I was born in 1966 in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, from a Spanish father and Dutch mother.

After school I studied psychology and philosophy. The first two years of my studies took place at the University of Nijmegen. In the third year I went to Utrecht University where I continued my psychology, specializing in theoretical psychology, with the subjects of animal consciousness and animal cognition as my main subjects of interest. With philosophy I moved to the University of Amsterdam, where I specialized in ethics, with a focus on animal ethics.

As part of my psychology studies I spent the Summer of 1993 at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI) of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington State. This was the place where Washoe lived, the first chimpanzee who was taught signs from humans, together with four other signing chimpanzees: Moja, Tatu, Dar, and Loulis. I studied the research that was taking place at the CHCI on the use of signs by these chimpanzees and took part in taking care for the chimpanzees. It was quite miraculous to have these chimpanzees coming up to you and seeing them sign to you.

In 1994 I started a Ph.D. program at the Philosophy Department of Nijmegen University, in which I was going to investigate in what way new knowledge could be obtained about the emotions and thoughts of apes, by examining their use of human taught signs closely. In the following years I paid many working visits to the USA, where I had contact with Roger and Deborah Fouts from the CHCI; as well as with Lyn Miles in Atlanta, Georgia, who had taught signs to the orangutan Chantek at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga; and with Penny Patterson of the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California, who had studied the use of signs by the gorilla Koko and others. Eventually I did a thorough study of the use of signs by the CHCI chimpanzees in the period 1992-1999. After analysis of the data I wrote my dissertation, which I defended in April 2003, when I got my doctoral degree.

Having tried several jobs after this, I recently decided to try and make a living by giving lectures and courses on the subjects of my speciality.

I live in Amsterdam and have a great boyfriend, whose name is Eric.


4 responses to “Bio

  1. Hallo Steban,
    Found your paper at ! I am very curious about your current opinions on ape language research. By the way, I also encountered
    interesting research about Prairie dogs. One researcher, Slobodchicoff, claims they have the most complicated animal ‘language’ apart from humans. See, for example In the future, I would like to hear your opinion on this !!! Kind regards, Pouwel

    • Hello Pouwel,
      Thank you for your comment. I will write more later about my current opinions on language reserach with nonhuman animals. This Wednesday, February 3, there will be a programme fully dedicated to the research by Slobodchikoff on the communication of prairie dogs. It is broadcast on BBC2, as part of the Natural World series and starts at 21:00 (our time).

  2. Hola Sr Rivas, ¿habla español?. Como miembro de Proyecto Gran Simio España y Proyecto Cetáceo Libre, estoy muy interesado por las conferencias que va a organizar sobre comunicación con grandes simios y delfines, ¿Nos podría dar más información?

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