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Walk Like a Man: The “Humanzees” that Inspired Legends of Human-Ape Hybrids

For years, stories about “humanzees”–alleged half human, half chimpanzee chimeras–have circulated in the annals of folklore and conspiracy theory.

I recall having one very  spirited discussion with the producers of a popular television program a number of years ago, which had wanted to employ me to appear on-camera as an “expert” on human-ape hybrids for a segment on their show. The setup, of course, would be that two of the hosts would travel some ridiculous distance out into the California countryside, just to be able to meet me at “an undisclosed location” to discuss experiments that involved breeding humans and chimps. Needless to say, I thanked them, but declined the “interview.”

The truth is, there is very little need for sensationalizing the issue; it is a matter of historical record that Stalin had aimed to try and utilize any such breeding techniques, if they worked, to create a “superhuman” army that would be more resistant to cold, and less likely to complain about such things as lodging, rations, etc. I. Ivanovich Ivanov was the scientist Stalin tasked with the study of human/animal interbreeding, and despite years of study, no evidence exists that there was any measure of success with the experiments. The rest, as far as claims about “humanzees” (or attempts to create them), really is the stuff of conspiracy theory.

However, there have been some notable situations over the years that have fed into the legends, spawning further myths about the reality of the human/ape hybrid. One famous example had been the story of Bassou, the so-called “Ape Man of Dadis,” who had been a peculiar-looking resident of French Morocco that began appearing in various adventure magazines several decades ago.

Bassou was, of course, hardly anything close to being a human-ape hybrid, but was rather more likely to have been an individual born with some variety of microcephaly; the mischaracterization of individuals with such unusual traits as resembling “animals” in decades past is something that, today, would not be tolerated, due to the inherent racism involved.

Another example (and a slightly more socially acceptable one) involves “Oliver,” a chimpanzee that possessed unusual physical characteristics which gave him the appearance of being a hybrid animal of some kind; namely a mostly hairless face and head, and blue eyes. However, Oliver had also been trained to walk bipedally, which gave him the distinct appearance of being more humanlike, while nonetheless remaining 100% chimpanzee, biologically speaking. Genetic tests supposedly showed that genetic anomalies were present in Oliver’s DNA, but this was refuted in later studies.

Part of what made the claims about Oliver so convincing had included the fact that the chimpanzee, along with his unusual appearance, had been skilled in mimicking various human actions. One notable “performance” had been in the presence of one of Oliver’s former owners, who recalled meeting Oliver as his then-current owner called to him, after which Oliver appeared carrying a tea set, clumsily ushering the refreshments into the room, and spilling tea everywhere as he attempted to pour the liquid into his guest’s teacups. This “act,” with little doubt, did have the effect of convincing some that Oliver had been more human than he ever actually was.

Oliver was by no means the only ape that was capable of learning to perform humanlike tasks like this. Another notable instance where an ape managed to acquire and perform certain human skills involved the story of “Jack,” a chimpanzee acquired by a Cape Town resident and former intrepid railwayman, James “Jumper” Wide. As his nickname suggest, Wide had once been famous for his daring leaps between railcars while on duty; however, he eventually suffered an accident, during which he lost both of his legs. Unable to perform his previous duties unaided, Wide enlisted the aid of his baboon, Jack, training him to push his wheelchair around, as well as teaching him to operate the railway signals on command.

Despite the fact that Wide’s baboon was always under strict supervision, concerned passengers in the area alerted officials once they spotted the baboon performing a man’s duties. However, the ensuing investigation only resulted in Jack being given the official title of being a railway employee, after it was determined that he could complete his tasks reliably under the supervision of Wide. Jack was given a wage of twenty cents per day, along with half of a bottle of beer every week.

Such stories, by blurring the lines between the abilities of humans with chimpanzees and other species, no doubt contribute to the idea of a human-ape hybrid. Whether or not there is any more to the idea, at least in terms of scientific and historical veracity, has yet to ever be proven. Thus, until that notion is proven otherwise, the idea of the “humanzee” will have to remain a matter of urban legend, rather than historical fact.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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