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Oliver (chimpanzee): Wikis


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Oliver (born circa 1958) is a Common Chimpanzee and a former performing ape once promoted as a missing link or "Humanzee" due to his unusually human-like face and a tendency to walk upright. Despite his somewhat unusual appearance and behavior, scientists determined in the 1990s that Oliver is not a human-chimpanzee hybrid.[1]


Early life

Oliver was acquired as a young animal (around 2 years old[2]) in 1960 by trainers Frank and Janet Berger. Supposedly, the chimpanzee had been caught in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire). Some physical and behavioral evidence led the Bergers to believe Oliver was a creature other than a chimpanzee, perhaps a human-chimp hybrid: Oliver possesses a flatter face than his fellow chimpanzees; Oliver was habitually bipedal (before being struck with arthritis), never walking on his knuckles like his chimpanzee peers; and Oliver may have preferred human females over chimpanzee females.[2] During a December 16, 2006 Discovery Channel special, Janet Berger herself claimed that Oliver was becoming attracted to her when he reached the age of 16.[3] He mounted her and tried to mate with her. After he tried it several times it became apparent that Oliver was a threat to Janet, and had to be sold. Still, Oliver was not the clownish performer his chimp peers were, and other chimps avoided him.

1977 to 2006

Miller in 1977 gave him to Ralph Helfer, partner in a small Buena Park, California, theme park called Enchanted Village which was built on the site of the defunct Japanese Village and Deer Park amusement attraction. When Enchanted Village closed down later that year, Helfer continued exhibiting Oliver in a new venture, Gentle Jungle, which changed locations a few times before finally closing in 1982. The Los Angeles Times did an extensive article about Oliver as a possible missing link or new sub-species of chimp. Oliver was transferred to the Wild Animal Training Center at Riverside, California, owned by Ken Decroo, but he was allegedly sold by Decroo in 1985. The last trainer to own Oliver was Bill Rivers. Rivers reported problems with Oliver not getting along with other chimps.

The Buckshire Corporation, a Pennsylvanian laboratory leasing out animals for scientific and cosmetic testing, purchased Oliver in 1989. His entrance examination revealed some previous rough handling. He was never used in experiments, but for the next nine years, his home was a small cage, whose restricted size resulted in muscular atrophy to the point that Oliver's limbs trembled. In 1996, Sharon Hursh, president of the Buckshire Corporation, after being petitioned by Primarily Primates, an organization founded by Wallace Swett in 1978, allowed his retirement in Buckshire's colony of 13 chimpanzees.

Older, blind,[4] and arthritic, in 1998 Oliver ended up at a spacious, open-air cage at Primarily Primates;[5] the sanctuary's director at the time also decided to resolve the question of Oliver's taxonomy.

Genetic testing

A geneticist from University of Chicago examined Oliver's chromosomes in 1996[6] and revealed that Oliver had forty-eight, not forty-seven, chromosomes, thus disproving the earlier claim and confirming that he had a normal chromosome count for a chimpanzee. Oliver's cranial morphology, ear shape, freckles and baldness fall within the range of variability exhibited by the Common Chimpanzee.[7] Scientists performed further studies with Oliver, the results of which were published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.[1]

Oliver today

Oliver was in the temporary care of wildlife rehabilitator Lee Theisen-Watt, who had been appointed to oversee Primarily Primates while the state of Texas determined who would ultimately be in charge of the facility. Though Oliver's health may have been compromised by being kept for long periods of time under unsatisfactory conditions prior to his arrival at Primarily Primates, he has barely exceeded half the usual lifespan of captive Common Chimpanzees which survive to adulthood.

On April 27, 2007, the state of Texas entered into a settlement agreement which removed Lee Theisen-Watt as overseer of Primarily Primates and replaced her with a board of directors that is headed by Eric Turton and Priscilla Feral. The settlement also dismissed all charges against Primarily Primates. Swett was required to leave the property and is prohibited from serving either on the board or as an employee.[8]

Oliver remains in the care of Primarily Primates while the facility goes through major renovations. Members of the re-formed board of directors expressed concern for Oliver in court proceedings and in news articles about the ongoing dispute over management of the sanctuary. The Star-Telegram reports that Friends of Animals is now merging with Primarily Primates in order to restructure its management and address past concerns about the future of the sanctuary.[9]

Oliver was recently photographed in April 2008 at a watermelon party thrown to recognize the official merger of Friends of Animals and Primarily Primates. He and his fellow residents celebrated by rolling, smashing, stomping and eating 80 watermelons.[10] Oliver is also no longer living alone. A gentle female named Raisin was placed with him as a companion and Oliver is reported to be doing his best to impress her with vocalizations and displays.[11]

Oliver in popular culture

The decades long speculation about Oliver's origins and the possibility that he was a human-chimp hybrid have led to numerous references in popular culture. Many of these are satirical in nature or at least intended to be humorous. For example, the popular Church of the SubGenius assigns a feast day or holy day (sometimes several) to every day of the year and has seen fit to assign October 20 as The Feast of Saint Oliver the humanzee.[12] In addition, there is a New Mexico Jam band calling itself Oliver and The Humanzees.[13] Pop culture depictions like these generally ignore or predate the more recent proof that Oliver is not a hybrid.


  1. ^ a b Ely JJ, Leland M, Martino M, Swett W, Moore CM (1998). "Technical note: chromosomal and mtDNA analysis of Oliver". Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 105 (3): 395–403. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1096-8644(199803)105:3<395::AID-AJPA8>3.0.CO;2-Q. PMID 9545080.  
  2. ^ a b Shuker, Karl (1999). "Oliver's No Gene Genie". Fortean Times 120: 48–49.  
  3. ^ "The Human Chimp". YouTube.  
  4. ^ "Primarily Primates - Oliver". Primarily Primates. Retrieved 2009-07-15.  
  5. ^ "The Texas Monkey Project". Texas Monkey Project. Retrieved 2007-12-17.  
  6. ^ Anonymous (1996). "Mutant Chimp Gets Gene Check". Science 274 (5288): 727. doi:10.1126/science.274.5288.727e.  
  7. ^ Hill, WCO; in Bourne, GH (1969), Anatomy, behavior, and diseases of chimpanzees (The Chimpanzee, 1, S. Karger, pp. 22–49  
  8. ^ Settlement looming for Primarily Primates by Cindy Tumiel San Antonio Express-News 04/25/2007 10:30 PM CDT
  9. ^ Lawsuit filed in Oregon latest battle over Texas animal sanctuary By WILLIAM McCALL, Associated Press Writer Tue, Jun. 26, 2007. Accessed June 28, 2006
  10. ^ Chimpanzees, Awash in Watermelons! April 02, 2008 Primarily Primates News Accessed June 18, 2008
  11. ^ Primarily Primates - Newsletter Summer 2008 Veterinary Updates February 2008 by Priscilla Feral and Stephen Rene Tello Accessed June 18, 2008
  12. ^ "Calendar Of SubGenius Saints".  
  13. ^ Oliver and the Humanzees at iSound Alt. Pop-Rock from Albuquerque, NM [US]. Accessed 2/29/07

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