During the years of colonialism and exploration, when part of the globe remained hidden from sight and open to the imagination and science was trying to fix its categories, some being appeared from time to time that seemed to be halfway between man and beast. Oliver was probably the last of these creatures. Let’s look at the story of “the chimpanzee who wanted to be human”:
A heartwarming story
In the 1970s many chimpanzees were captured in the jungles of the Congo to then be distributed to other countries for different purposes such as being part of zoos, as pets or even to experiment with them in scientific laboratories.
This is how Oliver, only a few months old, arrived in Texas, USA, along with two other chimpanzees to be part of a peculiar training school in which the chimpanzees were taught to do certain things for the world of cinema and advertising.
But his new owners, who knew a lot about chimpanzees, soon realized that Oliver was not a normal chimpanzee. His anatomy was not like that of his peers: his head was much smaller and rounder than that of his peers and he lacked hair on his head and chest. His ears were small and pointed and his chin was more human-like than that of his own kind. Another characteristic that surprised many was that Oliver always walked upright, something that chimpanzees only achieve with a lot of training and that despite this, they only manage to do so for short distances, with their backs hunched and their legs arched to the sides. But Oliver did not walk like them, Oliver walked like humans, with his back and legs straight and for as long or as far as necessary.
But the surprises did not end here, as time went by, Oliver began to practice certain hobbies that were uncommon in his species. He loved watching television, and if he had a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other, so much the better. He learned to use the bathroom and wash his hands frequently, and even learned to make himself coffee, which he tasted and savored with great pleasure.
Oliver did not like the company of other apes, nor did they like Oliver’s presence. Apparently, Oliver had a very different smell from the other chimpanzees with whom he shared his work, and for this reason they disliked him, which meant that his career as a filmmaker did not go very far. But not so his fame, since his name and his photographs ran through newspapers, magazines and televisions all over the world with headlines of all kinds such as: “Oliver, the missing link of evolution”, “The human chimpanzee”, “Oliver, the first hybrid between humans and chimpanzees”….
But things ended up going awry because Oliver, perhaps imagining himself to be human, fell in love with his caregiver and did not miss any opportunity to prove it to her. Thus, his owners decided to move Oliver to another place. For a while he went through several institutions and training schools until he was finally lost and the world forgot about this peculiar ape.
More than 20 years passed until one man, who once knew Oliver and had not forgotten him, decided to look for him again. The search was not easy but he finally succeeded; it was 1996 and Oliver had spent the last 8 years of his life in a small cage of just a couple of square meters in a research laboratory.
Luckily, they had not experimented on him and his rescuer managed to free him, along with other chimpanzees that since then have been living in an association for the care and protection of these animals. The surprise of his new owners was great when, after so many years of captivity and imagining that his former ability to walk upright would have disappeared, Oliver came out of his cage walking as he had always done.
Who was Oliver?
Much was speculated at the time, and even continues to be speculated today, about the origin of this chimpanzee, different in many ways from all known breeds. Many were those who said that Oliver’s physical features, very similar to humans, could only come from a cross between a chimpanzee and a human, an aberration of the chromosome that by some chance came to be born. This theory was completely discarded in the late 1990s, when DNA tests were performed that showed Oliver to be 100% chimpanzee, with no possibility of human genetic admixture.
But these tests also demonstrated certain variations in his molecular chain that made Oliver the only known specimen of his species. A theory that was also much talked about in his time of fame. It was thought that Oliver belonged to some very small species of ape that would inhabit the deepest jungles of the Congo and that this would be proved sooner or later, by capturing more specimens of his own species. But that never happened and so far no other ape with the same characteristics as Oliver has ever been seen or known.
Here one could theorize in many respects: Was Oliver the last of his species? Was his species that missing link in the evolution between apes and humans that has been so much talked about?
Proponents of evolution will see in Oliver an excellent sample to support their theory, many others will just think that Oliver was a normal chimpanzee, with a random and peculiar genetic defect that made him famous.
The only certainty is that Oliver was not a normal chimpanzee. Oliver was the chimpanzee who wanted to be human.
Phoneia.com (November 24, 2022). Oliver, the chimpanzee who wanted to be a human being. Recovered from https://phoneia.com/en/oliver-the-chimpanzee-who-wanted-to-be-a-human-being/