Rumors of Humanzee

20536humanzeecloseMost conceptions of human-animal hybrids belong only in the annals of myth and fairy-tale. However much the Discovery Channel is banking on its viewers believing otherwise, things like mermaids and centaurs, harpies, werewolves, and Spiderman are simply not scientifically possible. At least not yet. The same cannot be said, however, of the Humanzee, a portmanteau originally  coined to describe particularly human-like chimps but now used to name the morbid result of mating with our nearest genetic cousins.

Evidence for the idea and quite possibly the reality of such creatures dates at least as far back as the 11th century when the testimony of Saint Peter Damian, as collected by the Patrologia Latina, includes an encounter with the offspring of a woman and an ape. Legendary Swedish Botanist Carl Linnaeus, inventor of binomial nomenclature and father of modern taxonomy, even created a species name for the eventual scion of a person and an orangutan.

More support comes from the modern era. In the early 2oth-century, the rather redundantly named Russian biologist and professor Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov outlined his plans to create a Humanzee via artificial insemination at the 1910 World Congress of Zoologists in Graz, Austria.  His experimental attempts over the next decade failed to find success and he was eventually exiled to Kazakhstan. Five decades later, researcher J. Michael Bedford proved that human sperm could and would penetrate the protective outer membranes of a gibbon egg, though his studies also indicated that cross-breeding could only occur among fellow hominids. Around this same time, interest in the subject exploded when famous animal trainers Frank and Janet Burger introduced the world to Oliver, a conspicuously human-looking chimpanzee from the Congo that walked upright, was sexually attracted to women, had male-pattern baldness, and who, they claimed, had 47 chromosomes–one more than man and one less than a typical chimpanzee. Later tests revealed this was not the case.

Just as Oliver’s celebrity was fading, reports of extensive and ongoing crossbreeding experiments surfaced from the People’s Republic of China. A doctor and hospital head named Ji Yongxiang admitted impregnating a female chimpanzee with human sperm, later confirmed by a representative of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Although that particular experiment allegedly fizzled (with the poor pregnant chimp dying of neglect) during the ensuing Cultural Revolution, who knows what’s been going on in all the years since, especially in the current era of gene splicing and DNA sequencing. We can only hope that any such creature would teach us more than we it about how to exist on a planet full of non-human life.