Bigfoot Encounters
By John J. Ely, Ph.D.

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 (2).

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: 727.
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.

John H. Ely, Ph.D.
Department of Biology, Trinity University

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