Oliver (chimpanzee)

Oliver (c. 1958 – 2 June 2012) was a common chimpanzee and a former performing ape once promoted as a missing link or "Humanzee" due to his unusually human-like face and a tendency to walk upright. Despite his somewhat unusual appearance and behavior, scientists determined in the 1990s that Oliver was not a human-chimpanzee hybrid. Oliver was acquired as a young animal (around 2 years old) in 1960 by trainers Frank and Janet Berger. Supposedly, the chimpanzee had been caught in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Republic of the Congo). Some physical and behavioral evidence led the Bergers to believe Oliver was a creature other than a chimpanzee, perhaps a human-chimp hybrid: Oliver possessed a flatter face than his fellow chimpanzees; Oliver was habitually bipedal (before being struck with arthritis), never walking on his knuckles like his chimpanzee peers; and Oliver may have preferred human females over chimpanzee females. During a December 16, 2006 Discovery Channel special, Janet Berger herself claimed that Oliver was becoming attracted to her when he reached the age of 16. He mounted her and tried to mate with her. After he tried it several times it became apparent that Oliver was a threat to Janet, and had to be sold. In 1977 Oliver's owner gave him to Ralph Helfer, partner in a small theme park called Enchanted Village in Buena Park, California, USA, built on the site of the defunct Japanese Village and Deer Park amusement attraction. When Enchanted Village closed later that year, Helfer continued exhibiting Oliver in a new venture, Gentle Jungle, which changed locations a few times before finally closing in 1982. The Los Angeles Times did an extensive article about Oliver as a possible missing link or new sub-species of chimp. Oliver was transferred to the Wild Animal Training Center at Riverside, California, owned by Ken Decroo, but he was allegedly sold by Decroo in 1985. The last trainer to own Oliver was Bill Rivers. Rivers reported problems with Oliver not getting along with other chimps. The Buckshire Corporation, a Pennsylvanian laboratory leasing out animals for scientific and cosmetic testing, purchased Oliver in 1989. His entrance examination revealed some previous rough handling. He was never used in experiments, but for the next nine years, his home was a small cage, whose restricted size resulted in muscular atrophy to the point that Oliver's limbs trembled. In 1996, Sharon Hursh, president of the Buckshire Corporation, after being petitioned by Primarily Primates, an organization founded by Wallace Swett in 1978, allowed his retirement in Buckshire's colony of 13 chimpanzees. Older, partially sighted and arthritic, in 1998 Oliver ended up at a spacious, open-air cage at Primarily Primates, in Bexar County, Texas. The sanctuary's director at the time also decided to resolve the question of Oliver's taxonomy. A geneticist from the University of Chicago examined Oliver's chromosomes in 1996 and revealed that Oliver had forty-eight, not forty-six, chromosomes, thus disproving the earlier claim that he did not have a normal chromosome count for a chimpanzee. Oliver's cranial morphology, ear shape, freckles and baldness fall within the range of variability exhibited by the Common Chimpanzee. Scientists performed further studies with Oliver, the results of which were published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. [edit]Oliver 2006-2012 Oliver was in the temporary care of wildlife rehabilitator Lee Theisen-Watt, who had been appointed to oversee Primarily Primates while the state of Texas determined who would ultimately be in charge of the facility. Though Oliver's health may have been compromised by being kept for long periods of time under unsatisfactory conditions prior to his arrival at Primarily Primates, he had barely exceeded half the usual lifespan of captive Common Chimpanzees which survive to adulthood. On April 27, 2007, the state of Texas entered into a settlement agreement which removed Lee Theisen-Watt as overseer of Primarily Primates and replaced her with a board of directors that is headed by Eric Turton and Priscilla Feral. The settlement also dismissed all charges against Primarily Primates. Swett was required to leave the property and is prohibited from serving either on the board or as an employee. Oliver remained in the care of Primarily Primates while the facility went through major renovations. Members of the re-formed board of directors expressed concern for Oliver in court proceedings and in news articles about the ongoing dispute over management of the sanctuary. The Star-Telegram reports that Friends of Animals is now merging with Primarily Primates in order to restructure its management and address past concerns about the future of the sanctuary. Oliver lived out the remainder of his life in the care of the restructured Primarily Primates Sanctuary.