Oliver, the Once Bipedal Chimp

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on May 12th, 2006

In the week and a half or so before we left for San Antonio for the second round of lectures at the Bigfoot in Texas? exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures, I tried to line up a private tour of the Primarily Primates sanctuary for the speakers that weekend.

The speakers were Jeff Meldrum, Jimmy Chilcutt and Rick Noll. Dr. Meldrum had attempted to visit the facility previously to study their arguably most famous resident, Oliver.


I wasn’t having much luck. My initial phone call was returned, but after that, my following calls were not. On the day I left for San Antonio, I was told that "things have been crazy around here all week. Wally has been really busy."

Wally would be Wallace Swett, the president and founder of the facility, which was founded in 1978. I had talked to Wally on two occasions. I invited him out to the talks at the Institute and the exhibit. He expressed great interest in the subject of Bigfoot in particular, and cryptozoology in general. From my initial talks, I thought that the private tour was going to happen. But then the lack of communication set in, and time was ticking off the clock.


Saturday came and went, with no word from Wally. Sunday morning, when we went down to eat breakfast at the hotel, I picked up a copy of the Sunday San Antonio Express-News. You can imagine my shock at seeing the following front page article:

Primates in the courtroom: Sanctuary at center of fight 

a raging debate that’s no laughing matter: whether Primarily Primates, a well-known, 28-year-old animal sanctuary in Northwest Bexar County, has fallen into a state of decay that endangers the welfare of some 1,000 animals living there. 

Boysen says the San Antonio sanctuary is substandard. She has been joined by other researchers and animal rights groups, along with some former employees of the sanctuary.

They describe an aging facility on the decline, suffering from dwindling financial support, staff shortages and management problems that put the basic health and safety of the animals at risk.

Wallace Swett, founder and president of the 75-acre sanctuary in Leon Springs, says a long-standing disagreement between him and PETA is at the heart of the matter. He said PETA and like-minded animal rights groups disfavor sanctuaries, which still keep animals confined in enclosures while allowing them to live out their lives.

"It’s not about the animals. The animals will be fine," Swett said after a court hearing Thursday. "They are definitely after the money."

Many famous people and famous animals have made their way to Primarily Primates, which Swett opened in 1978 as one of the first places offering refuge to apes, chimpanzees and other animals that had exhausted their usefulness to roadside zoos, medical research and other human enterprises.

Notable retirees have included chimps from the American space program, an orangutan that starred in a Clint Eastwood movie and a chimpanzee that once belonged to Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

Not listed in the online version, but in the print version as one of the animals that have come to the sanctuary is:

1996: Oliver, age 32, one of 12 chimps retired from Buckshire Corp., a Pennsylvania research facility. Oliver toured the world in the 1970’s as a so-called ‘man-ape.’ Claims that he had 47 chromosomes people have 46; apes 48) later proven untrue.


Well, things made much more sense now, things had been crazy around there all week. The lack of return phone calls was now understandable. They had bigger fish to fry than to host a tour of Bigfoot researchers…

Okay, back to Oliver, and why he was of interest to us Bigfoot researchers.

There was talk that Oliver was a Bigfoot in some circles. A woman I talked to in 2001 suggested this very thing. She had seen a news segment featuring the TBRC on a local Dallas news station. The station listed my home phone number to contact the group. As soon as the segment aired, I was besieged with calls. One of them was from a local woman who had been in the circus business her entire life. Her father owned a circus, and she had grown up in the business and was currently running it.

She told me that her father had known the people who originally owned Oliver, the Burgers. She insisted that he was a Bigfoot, at least that was the impression she had gotten from her father telling her about Oliver. I soon surmised that she was talking about Oliver, and I sent her links to websites with information about him. She was telling me that her father had seen this 7 foot tall bipedal ape that was from China, I believe. After she mailed me a photo, I knew it was Oliver and that the story had apparently been embellished by her father. When I called her back, she told me about the people that had owned him, the Burgers, who were friends of the family.


The Burgers sold Oliver to a New York attorney, Michael Miller, who exhibited Oliver as ape-man hybrid. He had become too much for them to handle.

For more information on the history of Oliver, see Amazing Missing Links

What fate will befall Oliver with the looming legal troubles facing his caretakers? 


About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

22 Responses to “Oliver, the Once Bipedal Chimp”

  1. Mari responds:

    After reading the “Amazing Missing Links” Page 2, I am intrigued about the story of Zana the “ape woman”.

    Are there any known photographs of her or her offspring?

  2. twblack responds:

    My only hope here is for the well being of the animals. I hope it is just not about $$$ and cents. These types of animals can not survive in the wild without these sanctuarys they would more than likely be put down. And if proven they are not being taken care of the proper way I hope they find another sanctuary to take them and not have to put them down.

  3. Ranatemporaria responds:

    I have often wondered if there are any documented cases of confirmed chimp-human hybrids being produced, or anything similar pehaps from different apes? I asked this previously on a blog and russian experimentation was mentioned during the cold war. I have as yet found anything to corroberate this, perhaps not a suprise though if it is true!

  4. Fyre responds:

    There are lots of rumors of labs here and there doing exactly that, one was said to be In Florida, another in China. Oliver was a chimp, period. He was a very unusual chimp, but individual differences occur in every species of animal.

    What worries me more is what will happen to all of the animals living at Primarily Primates now. It’s troubling that they haven’t done a newsletter in well over a year, and Charity Watch doesn’t rate them very highly. I do hope this is resolved in a way that most benefits the animals lving there.

  5. Ole Bub responds:

    Good morning Mari…..I recently read an account of Zana and her offspring….I found it sad but fascinating….there are several commentators here…who can illuminate the search for the remains of Zana and her offspring.

    Look to Loren and our friends in the FSU….

    all the best…

    ole bub and the dawgs

  6. Ole Bub responds:

    Good morning Bloggers…and Bloggees

    I’ve been involved in animal rescue primarily Rottweilers, Mastiffs and Weimeraners for over 40 years….one only need visit the local animal shelter to get a feel for the depth and breadth of animal abandonment issues….

    Sanctuaries for wild animals are even more tenuous….most rely on the generosity of a few patrons and the occassional visitor….I salute those who rescue…rescue…the “gift of life”…JMHO

    all the best…

    ole bub and the “rescued” Rotties

  7. jayman responds:

    The summary closing of the primate research facility at OSU, and the shipping of the animals to Primarily Primates, is big news here in cental Ohio. Dr. Boysen has said she is “so mad she can’t see straight” and has asserted that PP is substandard and in disarray. One of the chimps was DOA at PP, evidently a heart attack from stress and tranquilizers. Another chimp died shortly after arrival, but no details of the circumstances have been released by PP. Also, a capuchin monkey has gone missing and is feared dead.

  8. MattBille responds:

    I corresponded a bit with Swett a few years ago, when I was editing the newsletter Exotic Zoology, and even published his plea for funds once. This is a long-distance impression, but I think Swett is trying to do his best with insufficient funds and that PP is, in many cases, a last chance for shelter for animals that otherwise would be destroyed.

    Matt Bille

  9. dbdonlon responds:

    Why not take up his cause with an internet fundraiser, after you’ve determined he’s not in financial difficulty because of his own doings.. That’s one thing the internet and blogs are good for, anyway. A whole lot of people would part with a dollar for a poor old circus chimp in retirement. maybe not enough to solve the problem, but enough to make a dent, anyway.

  10. Ole Bub responds:

    Good morning DB….it’s easier said than done…..most rescuers/sanctuaries are independent…very difficult to jump through all the “non-profit” hoops…not to mention the local laws…

    Same reason BF researchers are independent…”freedom and flexibilty”…less acountability to the IRS or the morass of internal politics formal groups demand….JMHO

    seeing is believing…

    ole bub and the rescue dawgs

  11. jayman responds:

    Regarding the ape-human hybrid question, I have heard there was a discussion of it in Desmond and Ramona Morris’ mid-60s book “Men and Apes”, but I have not read it myself.

  12. YarriWarrior responds:

    If peta had their way, all of these animals would be dead. Plain and simple. Ask them what is contained in their huge freezer at the peta headquarters. They believe an animal should be put to death, as opposed to a person keeping it, as a pet or otherwise. Jerks. Yarri

  13. Ian Sallis responds:

    Oliver is an unusual animal. In fact he must have come from a remarkable species: as one of his kind picked up Albert Ostman and all his camping utensils and carried him for many miles. Only to hold poor Albert captive for a couple months.

    Oliver has always been a chimp. His differences were greatly exaggerated. Including his upright walking.

    The Explorer Blanford-Snell inspected him many years ago and reckoned a few of his facial charatersitcs were man made.

    He was passed from one dodgey owner to the next. The whole lot of them, all exploited him, contrary to whatever they have claimed since. The lawyer may have been a bit of an exception, but he still ended up, caged, in a research laboratory.

    In fact I thought when he got into PP he was starting to have a decent life be a shame if that turns sour as well.

  14. YarriWarrior responds:

    I have a photo saved of one of Zana’s sons, I found it on the net some time ago.(can’t remember from exactly where) He does look a bit strange! Anybody else see that photo? Yarri

  15. shovethenos responds:

    Yeah, I’ll bet Zana (from the link above) was at least partial inspiration for Stalin’s secret projects to crossbreed men and apes:

    And probably inspiration for similar US projects, which I believe are likely to exist.

  16. bill green responds:

    hey craig & loren wow this is incredible oliver update & debate also great comments as well. yes i agree with you all oliver is a incredible rather looking creature i think he could be either a chimp or a gorilla defiently maybe a possibe hybrid. more research needs to done without harming oliver. good morning bill 🙂

  17. jjames1 responds:

    Bill, the research has already been done. Oliver is a chimpanzee, pure and simple. An odd one, yes, but “just” a chimp.

  18. cor2879 responds:

    The story about Zana is very interesting. Hopefully someone will be able to come up with a photo of one of her offspring or grandchildren for us.

  19. cor2879 responds:

    As far as Oliver goes, I’d say he was just a particularly intelligent chimp… just like you have particularly intelligent dogs and particularly dumb humans 😉

  20. youcantryreachingme responds:

    Mari in comment #1 asked about more information on Zana.

    Here’s a lengthy article titled “Argosy Magazine, February 1971” that makes an interesting read.

  21. youcantryreachingme responds:

    There is a huge article discussing neanderthals. If you jump down to the Almas section, you will find several links to some very detailed information about Zana and her offspring.

  22. Mnynames responds:

    First off, I think thanks should be given to Craig for a continuing interest in a cryptozoological dead-end. So he’s not a man-ape…he was, and is, still interesting, and I’m very glad to see that somebody is still interested in him after the cryptozoological part of his story ended. Last thing I heard about him was that he might still be an unknown variety of chimp, perhaps a Bili. Has that been disproven too?

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