Oliver (c. 1958 – 2 June 2012) was 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 was not a human-chimpanzee hybrid.
Oliver was acquired as a young animal (around 2 years old) in 1960 by trainers Frank and Janet Berger. Supposedly, the chimpanzee had been caught in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Republic of the Congo). Some physical and behavioral evidence led the Bergers to believe Oliver was a creature other than a chimpanzee, perhaps a human-chimp hybrid: Oliver possessed 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. 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. 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.
Enchanted Village (1977–1989)
In 1977 Oliver's owner gave him to Ralph Helfer, partner in a small theme park called Enchanted Village in Buena Park, California, USA, built on the site of the defunct Japanese Village and Deer Park amusement attraction. When Enchanted Village closed 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.
Buckshire Corporation (1989–1998)
Oliver was purchased in 1989 by the Buckshire Corporation, a Pennsylvania laboratory leasing out animals for scientific and cosmetic testing. 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, allowed his retirement to Buckshire's colony of 13 chimpanzees.
Primarily Primates (1998–2012)
In 1998, Oliver was transferred to Primarily Primates, an organization founded by Wallace Swett in 1978. Older, partially sighted and arthritic, Oliver ended up at a spacious, open-air cage at Primarily Primates in Bexar County, Texas. The sanctuary's director at the time[who?] also decided to resolve the question of Oliver's taxonomy.
In 2006, Oliver was placed 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 before his arrival at Primarily Primates, he had 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 was 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.
Oliver remained in the care of Primarily Primates while the facility went 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. Oliver lived out the remainder of his life in the care of the restructured Primarily Primates Sanctuary.
Oliver spent his last years with another chimpanzee, the gentle female known as Raisin. She was placed with Oliver for companionship since Oliver's advanced age and years as a test subject left him blind, arthritic and unable to interact daily with younger, more playful Chimps at the Sanctuary. He took part in regular enrichment activities including a watermelon smashing party documented on the Friends of Animals online Newsletter and even the chance to paint. Although elderly, Oliver had access to the outdoors and lived the rest of his life in quiet retirement. News of Oliver as well as photos were often posted online by his caregivers, owing to public interest. Oliver died peacefully in his sleep and was found on 2 June 2012 in his favorite sleeping hammock with Raisin next to him. Stephen Rene Tello, executive director of Primarily Primates, states that Oliver will be cremated and his ashes spread on the grounds of the Sanctuary.
A geneticist from the University of Chicago examined Oliver's chromosomes in 1996 and revealed that Oliver had forty-eight, not forty-seven, chromosomes, thus disproving the earlier claim that he did not have 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. Scientists performed further studies with Oliver, the results of which were published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
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.
In addition, there are musical outfits appearing in North America referencing Oliver's legacy, such as The Humanzees from Ontario, as well as a New Mexico Jam band calling itself Oliver and The Humanzees. Pop culture depictions like these generally ignore or predate the more recent proof that Oliver is not a hybrid.
Oliver has been regularly talked about by Karl Pilkington on The Ricky Gervais Show during a segment called "Monkey News", and in at least one of Karl's tellings, 'Ollie' is described as a chimpanzee who comes home with a zookeeper and is well-behaved at first but eventually 'tries it on' with the zookeeper's wife.
The character Caesar, played by Roddy McDowall, in the 1972 film "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" is actually based on Oliver, according to the actor Andy Serkis who played the character in a 2010 remake.
- Oliver the chimp dies at Texas refuge
- 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.
- Shuker, Karl (1999). "Oliver's No Gene Genie". Fortean Times 120: 48–49.
- "The Human Chimp". YouTube.
- "Primarily Primates - Oliver". Primarily Primates. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "The Texas Monkey Project". Texas Monkey Project. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
- Settlement looming for Primarily Primates by Cindy Tumiel San Antonio Express-News April 25, 2007, 10:30 PM CDT
- Lawsuit filed in Oregon latest battle over Texas animal sanctuary By WILLIAM McCALL, Associated Press Writer Tue, Jun. 26, 2007. Accessed June 28, 2006.[dead link]
- Chimpanzees, Awash in Watermelons! Primarily primates Newsletter Online dated April 02, 2008 Accessed via Google August 20, 2012.
- Houston Chronicle: Oliver the chimp dies at Texas refuge, at least 55 Updated 3:28 p.m., Monday, June 4, 2012 This May 2012 photo provided by Primarily Primates shows a chimpanzee named Oliver painting
- Oliver the 'Humanzee' chimp dies at Texas refuge Texas News on KHOU.com Via the Associated Press Posted on June 4, 2012 at 7:56 AM Updated Monday, Jun 4 at 5:26 PM and accessed via the web June 6, 2012 to confirm his actual death
- Oliver, famed chimpanzee, dies reprinted from the San Antonio Express-News June 2, 2012 and accessed via the Friends of Animals Website June 6.
- Anonymous (1996). "Mutant Chimp Gets Gene Check". Science 274 (5288): 727. doi:10.1126/science.274.5288.727e.
- Hill, WCO; in Bourne, GH (1969). Anatomy, behavior, and diseases of chimpanzees (The Chimpanzee 1. S. Karger. pp. 22–49.
- "Calendar Of SubGenius Saints".
- The Humanzees at Myspace Alt. Pop-Rock from Guelph, ON [CA]. Accessed October 18, 2011
- Gervais, Ricky (17 September 2006). "The monkey and the zookeeper's wife". The Telegraph (in English). Retrieved 28 November 2013. "While the fella's busy at work, grafting, paying the bills for Ollie at home, Ollie starts getting a little bit cheeky – tries it on with the missus."
- Andy Serkis Talks ‘The Hobbit,’ ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ Animal Rights, and Steven Spielberg and Explains Why “Performance Capture” is Really, Really Acting
- Oliver's Obituary by Friends of Animals - group who runs the refuge where he spent his last years.
- The Story of Oliver an online video biography of Oliver produced by Primarily Primates
- Friends of Animals Official Website - they now oversee Primarily Primates
- Oliver research and publications by David J. Daegling. Retrieved December 14, 2006.
- Primate Info Net: Oliver by John J. Ely. Version of May 22, 2006. Retrieved December 14, 2006.