Updated information: Oliver died June 2, 2012
I found a good deal
of interest amongst primatologists in our poster on Oliver at the ASP
meetings in San Diego last summer, and I thought a recent publication
on Oliver might be of interest to Primate-Talkers.
Oliver has been in
and out of the media spotlight (including Time Magazine and several major
newspapers) since the early 1970s, as different owners promoted his bipedal
locomotion and shaved head as evidence that he was a cryptic, bipedal
African man ape. (Some of these rumors are truly astonishing, for example,
that he prepared his own martinis and smoked cigars.) Unsubstantiated
rumors that cytogeneticists determined Oliver's karyotype to be 2N=47,
midway between a human and a chimpanzee, led to further popular suggestions
that he was a "sport" or a human-chimp hybrid.
Two years ago,
Science published a news report that Oliver the "'mutant' chimp"
was getting a "gene check" (1). Since then, the cytogenetic
analysis alluded to in that report has been completed, along with mtDNA
sequencing and homology comparisons to African chimpanzees of known geographical
origins, and just published in the AJPA (2). Our results indicate that
Oliver is a member of the Pan troglodytes troglodytes subspecies from
Central Africa, has 48 normal chimpanzee chromosomes, and was likely trapped
in Gabon. Full details behind our conclusions can be found in our report
I might add that,
from what I have seen so far, those who really want to believe in highly
intelligent, bipedal African man-apes ("Apamandi" and whatnot)
who continue to elude field primatologists, the bushmeat market &etc,
will not be dissuaded by any amount of evidence. The persistence of these
deeply-rooted beliefs, as psychological facts, are an interesting phenomenon
in their own right. As luck would have
it, I have been told that the Lifetime television station is re-broadcasting
an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" tonight (Friday 27 March,
7:00 CST), which contains a segment on Oliver, including a clip of his
infamous bipedal gait.
1. Science, 1996. "Mutant" Chimp Gets Gene Check. Science 274:
2. Ely, J.J., Leland, M., Martino, M., Swett, W., and Moore, C.M., 1998.
Technical report: chromosomal and mtDNA analysis of Oliver. American Journal
of Physical Anthropology 105(3): 395-403.
H. Ely, Ph.D.
Department of Biology,
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