Human - chimpanzee interbreeding might have happened and produced a "Humanzee".
Daily Mail March 1, 2003, Is Oliver the chimp half-human?
by Mary Braid
He smoked cigars, drank whisky and had an eye for the ladies. Famed across the world, Oliver was thought to be a freak cross between a man and an ape. Still alive, genetic tests may now prove his true identity.
Oliver the latest American export to take Japan by storm, stood at the top of the airline steps, surveying the camera men screaming and jostling for position below.
It was spring 1976 and he was revelling in his international celebrity status, and the frenzy around his three week tour of Japan.
Oliver's elevation to cult superstardom had been breathtakingly swift. A few months before, he had been living anonymously in suburban Blackwood, New Jersey. Now, he was hot and everyone wanted a piece of him.
A Japanese camera crew had filmed every moment of his flight from New York as he ate dinner from his tray in first class and flirted with the stewardesses. In the whirl of parties and Press calls that followed, Oliver was seen in his dinner jacket, getting in and out of shiny black limos.
There were more intimate moments too - Oliver watching TV in his smoking jacket, a cigar between his lips and a glass of whiskey in one hand, and even Oliver in boxer shorts, slipping into bed in his luxury hotel.
It was the standard routine of a pop celebrity or a Hollywood film star. But Oliver was neither. He was an ape with extraordinary human traits that many thought he must be a hybrid creature.
Half -human, half - chimpanzee, he was described as a 'humanzee.'
Oliver was presented to the world as a scientific miracle. Some said he was the product of secret experiments in which human and chimp DNA had been fused.
Others suggested that he was the result of some unspeakable union between human and ape. Some newspapers even proclaimed him the missing link in the evolution of man.
The story of how Oliver took the scientific community and the world by storm is told in a TV documentary, The Human Chimp, which charts the ape's rise to fame and sad decline. It also describes how science had tried to solve the mystery of his identity.
Oliver's story starts in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960 when he was captured and taken to America. Back then there was a roaring trade between Africa and the US in baby chimps to satisfy the demand from TV shows and circuses.
Two of the most famous trainers, Janet and Frank Burger, whose animal acts regularly featured on The Ed Sullivan Show, became Oliver's first American owners.
Today Frank is dead but Janet remembers when she noticed their most recent purchase was utterly different from all the others.
'When he was about four or five months old, Oliver just stood up one day,' she says. 'And then he was always up. Very seldom did he ever put his knuckles on the ground like other apes.'
Oliver would walk upright, shoulders back and knees locked - just like a human being.
Facially, he had less hair than other chimps. His cranium was small and egg - shaped, not large and flat. His ears were pointed, not round, and set higher up. His jaw was also far less pronounced than usual, giving his face a peculiarly human look.
Oliver also lacked the distinctive chimp body odour. It was not just humans that spotted the differences. Other chimps noticed them, too, and shunned Oliver - not that he minded. He preferred human company anyway.
'He used to come in the house and sit down and watch television,' says Janet. 'Sometimes he would smoke a cigar.'
Old black - and - white TV footage captured Oliver, sitting, legs crossed on the sofa next to Frank Burger with his cigar in one hand and whisky in the other. In the mornings, he enjoyed a cup of coffee before helping feed the dogs.
Janet insists he was not trained to act this way. 'Oliver was like a little person,' she says. 'He even knew how to wash his hands. He just wanted to do what humans did.'
That desire to be human even extended to sex. Janet Burger says she had to look for a new home for Oliver when he was 16 because, although he showed no interest in female chimps, he had developed an embarrassing attachment to her.
At this stage a New York lawyer, Michael Miller, bought Oliver for $8,000 - in the interests of scientific research. 'To be in his presence is just strange,' says Miller. 'He's just different.'
Gordon Gallup, psychology professor of the State University of New York, agreed. He was 'blown away' when he first saw Oliver paraded on stage at the annual banquet of the city's Explorers' Club at the beginning of 1976.
'I thought Oliver might be a humanzee,' says Prof Gallup. 'He had some very peculiar morphological characterises - facial characteristics that looked surprisingly human-like.' He argues that since 99 per cent of our genetic biochemistry with chimpanzees (our closes animal relatives), it would be surprising if chimps and human could not cross - breed.
Moreover, he suspects the first humanzee may have been created in the US 50 years before Oliver's appearance.
He says rumours have circulated for decades that a female chimp was inseminated with human sperm at the Yerkes Primate Centre at Orange Park, Florid, in the 1020s, and that a live birth was achieved.
The resultant 'baby' was apparently destroyed several days after its birth and the experiment was kept secret.
'I had a professor who was at the Primate Centre at the time and he confided in me it did happen,' says Prof Gallup. 'That doesn't make it true, but he was a very credible source.'
Whatever the scientific possibilities, to say nothing of the moral nightmare, the notion of the 'ape man' has always fascinated humans.
The Explorers' Club banquet fell completely silent when an upright Oliver walked on stage led by his neck collar.
Everyone gawped at the strange creature. 'Oliver fever' gripped America. But whatever the fascination at home, it was nothing compared with the mania that gripped Japan when Oliver, the chimp man, visited a few months later.
Miller agreed to take Oliver to Japan in the hope that tests by Japanese scientists would find if he really was a humanzee.
But he admits that, at some point during the visit, the balance between scientific interest and media sensation was lost. Oliver's appearance on a Japanese TV special attracted 26 million viewers.
The Oliver circus got even more out of hand when a Japanese actress told a newspaper that she had agreed to have sex with him and the intercourse would be shown on TV, 'in the interests of science.'
Miller says the sickening proposal convinced him that events were taking a horrible turn. Some scientific tests were made. But what they proved has been the subject of controversy ever since.
A Japanese TV special claimed that after blood analysis, scientists had found that the ape had 47 chromosomes in some cells - one more than a human and one fewer than a chimp. He was indeed a hybrid, a humanzee.
But the tests were never repeated, or confirmed in America.
Whatever the truth, Oliver's short -lived celebrity was almost over. When he returned to America, Miller decided Oliver had had enough of the attention and wanted to sell him.
Oliver's fans accused Miller of exploitation. He insists that he bought Oliver, not as a commercial investment, but because he wanted to be a part of a scientific breakthrough.
Either way, interest in the humanzee began to wane. Oliver spent the next decade passing from trainer to trainer, appearing in jungle parks; circuses and, eventually, in roadside freak shows. Those who had professed such scientific interest in him forgot he even existed.
This decline in his fortunes was caused in part by the changes in the world around him. By now the animal rights movement was questioning the morality of taking animals from their natural habitats for human amusement. Circuses were dying and animal parks closing.
At some point in the late Eighties, Oliver was quietly passed to a cosmetic and scientific experimentation laboratory in Pennsylvania.
For the next seven years, the chimp, who had slept in crisp white sheets in hotels, was confined to a 5ft by 5ft cage. Oddly, despite the length of the stay, the Buckshire Corporation claimed that Oliver was never experimented on.
Even so, Oliver would surely have died in the lab but for a twist of fate. In 1996, Wally Swett, a former zoo keeper and founder of the Primarily Primates animal sanctuary in San Antonio, Texas, was spearheading the first negotiated 'retirement' of lab animals.
Among 12 primates transferred to big care was a chimpanzee called Oliver. Swett excitedly realised he had found the famous 'humanzee' the moment he left his cage.
'He walked out fully upright despite the confinements of he cage,' says Swett, laughing. 'I came out in goosebumps. It was definitely him. It was just magical.'
But Oliver was a shadow of his former self. Years in the confined space had caused him sever arthritis and within a few years he would lose his straight and human gait.
Swett says he never believed Oliver was a humanzee but does think he was unique. 'There has never, ever been a chimpanzee trained to walk that has been able to keep that pose.'
Swett's hunch is that Oliver is a member of a small and undiscovered branch of the chimpanzee family. He believes his relatives live in an unexplored part of the dense Congolese jungle.
'That's why he is still rejected by other chimpanzees,' he says. 'He's from a different tribe.'
So Swett decided to take advantage of the advances in genetics. A Chicago University geneticist tested Oliver's blood but found no evidence of human chromosomes.
A biologist at San Antonio's Trinity University has also concluded that Oliver was not a form of 'man ape' but a type of chimp unusual in the Congo but commonly found in Gabon.
Swett is dissatisfied with such conclusions. He complains that the tests did not exhaust all possible explanations of Oliver's uniqueness and plans more.
His worry is that Oliver - now 42 (five years older than the average chimp life expectancy) - might die before a genetic basis to his unique behaviour and appearance is found.
MEANWHILE, Oliver is living out his final days in a spacious enclosure in the Texan sun. He's still a loner in chimp society and happiest among humans. 'He loves it when you give him treats; like sweets or raisins;' says Swett.
`He is comfortable now. But is, he happy? No. He has no teeth. Some trainer once pulled them with pliers. His liver is damaged because he was once encouraged to drink a bottle of wine a day. He is also blind and has severe arthritis from the laboratory cage.
`He has had a lonely life and the fact is he should never have been brought to the States. He should have been left in Africa.'
Swett's sanctuary, a charity, relies on donations. Oliver's anti-inflammatory drugs cost £8 a day and there are hundreds more sick animals to care for.
Now Swett faces a moral dilemma. A Japanese film crew this week offered $6,009 to film their Seventies cult star. He badly needs the money for his sanctuary.
Like all ageing stars, Oliver's comeback could be just around the corner,
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