Oliver was different from all other apes, very different.
During his initial run in the freak shows of the 1970’s Oliver was billed as a missing link, as a hybrid of man and chimpanzee, a ‘humanzee’. This claim was substantiated with a bold medical statement claiming that Oliver possessed 47 chromosomes, one more than man and one less than a typical chimpanzee.
Forgoing the medical claims, the sheer appearance and demeanor of Oliver set him apart from other primates. His peculiar human-like facial features, light eye color, pattern baldness and soft voice were often enough to convince spectators of his unusual pedigree. His mannerisms were extremely human and the fact that Oliver was bipedal, that he walked upright unlike other chimps and apes, certainly furthered all claims. He was not trained to walk upright; it was simply his natural and favored means of movement.
When he was first brought over from the Congo by Frank and Janet Burger, famous animal trainers often featured on the Ed Sullivan Show, his uniqueness was quickly identified. The Burger family claimed that their other chimps wanted nothing to do with Oliver, that he was shunned by their society. Surprisingly, Oliver was fine with the arrangement as he preferred the company of his human handlers. He proved to be a great asset to them as he spontaneously began doing their chores. He would often feed the animals and even used tools, like a wheelbarrow, when loads were too much to handle. His intelligence and ability to learn was astounding. As he grew older, Oliver acquired the human habits of morning coffee drinking and evening cocktails, often mixing his own drinks. His behavior was not just mimicry either as Oliver demonstrated on numerous occasions his ability to overcome obstacles and extrapolate solutions using his logic or previously learned behavior and concepts.
Oliver was sexually attracted to human females as well and, due to his strength, was considered a danger to handlers and spectators. He was passed around between various promoters and animal handlers for a number of years, all of them unable to cope with his unusual habits and personality. In 1986 Oliver was sold to a lab. Amazingly, Oliver was spared from typically torturous and fatal laboratory experimentation due to his unique characteristics. He was simply not considered a viable specimen because there were too many variables in his genetics when compared to other chimps in the lab. Any experimentation performed on him would have been tainted in the eyes of researchers. Instead, Oliver spent seven years in a tiny five by seven cage.
In 1996 Oliver was rescued and lived the remainder of his days in a chimpanzee retirement villa. While there formal tests performed by the University of Chicago revealed that Oliver had the same number of chromosomes as all other chimps. It was noted during testing, however, that something in his genetic code was indeed different.
Is a human/ape hybrid possible? Many think so. In 1929 Soviet biologist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was allegedly very close to creating such a creature. Frightening those in power, he was exiled to the Kazakh SSR during the Great Purge where he died two years later.
In 1977, researcher J. Michael Bedford discovered that human sperm could penetrate the protective outer membranes of a gibbon egg, which genetically is the ape furthest from humans.
Was Oliver a hybrid? Likely not, but at the very least, he was most certainly a extraordinary mutant.