Update on Oliver and Primarily Primates

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on December 17th, 2006

On the Primarily Primates website, it was announced that on last Wednesday, December 13th, Oliver was moved from his cramped living quarters to a much larger enclosure.

For the last ten years, he has been housed in a 5′ X 12′ X 8′ circus transport cage. His new enclosure is 20′ X 40′.

You can read more about Oliver here on Cryptomundo. And you can read about the plight of Primarily Primates here on Cryptomundo.

And on Friday, December 15th, the Austin Chronicle published a lengthy piece on Oliver and the legal wranglings at Primarily Primates.

Oliver Austin Chronicle

Famous Long Ago
Legendary "Humanzee" Oliver, his friends, and the bitter fight over animal welfare at a Texas refuge
Austin Chronicle
December 15, 2006

Once upon a time, everyone knew Oliver.

The exact date and place of his birth aren’t certain – records suggest he was born in 1962, somewhere in the Congo – but by the time he was about 10 years old, he’d become an international celebrity. Stories about those years, especially in the mid- to late Seventies, paint Oliver as a jet-setter – flying around the world, making a string of television appearances, most memorably on The Ed Sullivan Show and extensively on Japan’s Nippon TV. There were credulous stories about his favorite pastimes: watching TV while smoking a cigar and drinking sherry, or making, serving, and drinking coffee.

Oliver is a chimpanzee – perhaps the most storied of all the Old World simians to achieve celebrity status. As for so many celebs, it was Oliver’s appearance that transformed his life, setting him on a course that would, inevitably, bring on his subsequent downfall. More so than his primate brethren, Oliver appeared – and still does (his legend remains fodder for any number of Web sites) – almost human. His head is smaller and less hairy than that of a typical chimp, his nose smaller and more defined, his ears more pointed. Most dramatically, Oliver walks upright, like a man – knees locked, powerful shoulders straight and broad, arms swinging at his sides – instead of hunched forward and using his hands and arms, like most chimps. It was his bipedal walk, combined with Oliver’s other humanoid features, that earned him the dubious honor of being dubbed the "Humanzee" – promoted as the "Missing Link" between man and ape.

He was brought to the U.S. by animal trainers Frank and Janet Burger, who ran a chimp, dog, pony, and pig show that was once a regular feature on The Ed Sullivan Show and at Radio City Music Hall, Janet Burger told the San Antonio Express-News in 1996. But in 1976, when Oliver had reached sexual maturity and became difficult to handle, the Burgers sold him to New York lawyer Michael Miller. Miller began promoting Oliver as a possible chimp-human "hybrid," taking him to Japan and exhibiting him on TV and stage. Before long, Oliver was sold again – and again – to a string of West Coast animal trainers, who variously exhibited him as a freak.

Oliver’s celebrity soon ran its course. In 1989, he was sold, one last time, to the infamous research-animal broker Buckshire Corp. of Pennsylvania, where he languished for seven years in a small metal cage, receiving little human or animal interaction. There were dozens of chimps housed at Buckshire, spending years in tiny cages or leased out for dangerous research projects. In 1995, an undercover investigation by the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals produced a surreptitiously recorded video showing some 40 cruelly housed chimps at Buckshire. Under pressure, Buckshire eventually agreed to retire a dozen chimps who became known as the Buckshire 12. At the time, retiring research animals, and especially chimpanzees, was uncommon, and there were (and remain) few options for housing and caring for chimps or other primates. Chimps are humans’ closest biological relatives; they’re strong, social, highly intelligent, and in captivity can live nearly 60 years. But providing adequate care is complex and expensive.

It appeared that Oliver and his Buckshire brethren had finally received a reprieve when Wallace Swett, founder of Primarily Primates Inc., the now nearly 30-year-old northwest Bexar Co. animal sanctuary, contacted Buckshire to say that the Leon Springs refuge would be willing to provide permanent retirement for the Buckshire 12. In 1996, the chimps were transported to Texas, and Oliver, then in his 30s, walked upright from his transport cage into a larger enclosure at PPI. "He’s been dragged around and exploited for over 20 years, but this is his final retirement," Swett told the Express-News, calling Oliver a "national treasure." "He’ll never go into research or on exhibit again."

Read the entire article on the Austin Chronicle website here:
Famous Long Ago

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.

9 Responses to “Update on Oliver and Primarily Primates”

  1. kittenz responds:

    “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

    In this case it is these poor animals that have been through hell.

  2. mrbf2006 responds:

    Craig, thanks for keeping us up to date on Oliver. I have been deeply interested in the story of this unique Chimp since I can remember, and it is so good to see him treated with respect and put in a much larger enclosure. He deserves to live out his last days in comfort and a loving environment, and it seems like he is getting just that at Primarily Primates. Keep us updated on this story, Craig.

  3. mystery_man responds:

    Good to see Oliver finally get some peace and quiet. It’s a shame that he was exploited for so long as some kind of human hybrid freak. What’s even scarier is that some people out there really believe that he was a human hybrid. That is just simply, biologically impossible. Perfect example of how ignorant people can be about the world around them. Unfortunately, at its worst, human ignorance goes a long way towards the defiling of the natural world sometimes.

  4. bill green responds:

    hey craig wow this is a very informative new update article about oliver. its very interesting indeed. thanks bill. p.s. hey loren & rick whats both of science opinions of oliver.

  5. jayman responds:

    Everybody here should read the novel “Jennie” about the tragedy of chimps caught up in the human world. I did, after it was mentioned on another blog here. I highly recommend it.

    While Oliver was proven not to be a “humanzee”, I’m not so sure of the “biological impossibility” of this (though it’s surely not a good idea)! Species considerably more genetically dissimilar than humans and chimps can hybridize. Horses and donkeys can, though their chromosome number differs by two, as does humans and chimps – that’s why mules are sterile. The real barrier is behavioral.

  6. mystery_man responds:

    Jayman, although you are right about some closely related species doing this (lions and tigers, horses and donkeys, etc.) species doing this, chimps and humans cannot. There is a whole plethora of reasons why it is an impossibility, but it is. A human and a chimp cannot produce offspring. Period. I’m not making that up.

  7. jayman responds:

    MM, I agree this would be extremely unlikely to happen naturally. But do you have documentation that it’s “impossible”? Not just “yuk factor”?

    Various gibbon-siamang species can produce hybrids although they vary greatly in chromosome number.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    There are various factors involved. Just because two species are closely related does not mean they can always interbreed. Many types of frog are related but cannot interbreed for example. Just being closely related is not enough. There are reproductive compatibility factors to be considered as well. In layman’s terms, chimps and humans have differing egg, sperm compatibility, differing gestation periods, different womb conditions, different fetal nutrition requirements, size differences, and so on and so forth. I’m not trying to be argumentative here, just giving you the knowlege I have. I suggest you get on the net and check it out or look into it. Fascinating stuff. Chimps and human are close, but no cigar on the interbreeding front.

  9. mystery_man responds:

    That being said, it seems there is a lot of debate in the scientific community as to whether it would be possible or not, so who knows? It is possible on a genetic scale, but my own opinion is that other factors that I mentioned make it very difficult for such a hybrid to come to fruition. So maybe “impossible” is the wrong word. “Highly improbable” is probably closer. So far there have been no documented cases of a “humanzee” which is telling because I would have thought that some sicko would have done it by now if it were easy to do. If it is doable, I hope nobody does it because that would open up a whole ethical can of worms!

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