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Amazing Missing Links

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Oliver, the

Oliver's odd appearance had some people wondering if he might be a human- chimp hybrid.

Primarily Primates

Is it possible that ancestors of early humans have survived in isolated areas of the Earth? Have specimens of them actually been captured and studied? Consider these incredible, mysterious creatures.

IT IS WIDELY accepted in the scientific community that over millions of years humans evolved from lower life forms, most recently from small, ape-like creatures. But is it possible that some of those ape-like creatures have survived to the present day? Do some of these "missing links" survive today as what have become known as Bigfoot, Sasquatch or the Alma? Does information from these primitive ancestors still reside in our genetic makeup and occasionally result in the birth of a genetic throwback?

These are all tantalizing puzzles presented by documented cases of strange creatures and people -- some of which are more animal-like than human, and others which are more human than animal-like, but all of which seem to be some bizarre mixture of the two.

Here are a few fascinating cases:

THE STORY OF OLIVER

Oliver was one of the most closely studied chimpanzees in history, in large part because of his odd appearance and behavior. His behavior was so humanlike, in fact, that it was suspected by some that he might actually be a human-chimp hybrid -- the result of some secret genetic experiment. Some called him a "humanzee".

Oliver was born in the African Congo where he was captured in the early 1970s and sold with a dozen other chimps to Frank and Janet Burger, animal trainers from South Africa. Immediately, they recognized that Oliver was quite different than the other chimps they worked with. He looked different, for one thing. Although young, he lacked hair on his chest and head. His ears and jawline were shaped somewhat differently than a normal chimp's. Most astonishingly, Oliver always walked upright with a decidedly human gait. He learned to use a toilet, liked to watch TV with the Burgers, drink coffee and beer with them, and even took on simple household chores like feeding the dog.

Oliver's remarkable intelligence brought him a modicum of fame, touring the world throughout the 1970s and performing before an estimated 26 million people. He even made appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Oliver preferred the company of humans to that of other chimps. The feeling on the part of other chimps was mutual; they tended to avoid him. Oliver's comfort with humans even crossed the boundaries of social propriety when he made sexual advances toward Janet Burger and other human females.

It was shortly after these incidents that Oliver was sold to a New York attorney and later to West Coast animal trainers who promoted him as "The Missing Link" and showcased him in a traveling act of trained chimps.

Was Oliver a human-chimp hybrid, a kind of mutant chimp or one of some new species?

In the sensationalized publicity that surrounded Oliver, it was reported that he had 47 chromosomes - one less than an ordinary chimpanzee and one more than a human being. These reports were refuted in 1997, however, when genetic testing revealed that he had 48 chromosomes, just like any other chimp. This eliminates the human-chimp hybrid theory, but does not rule out the possibility that Oliver might be a mixture of common and pygmy chimps or part of a new, unknown species.

Oliver has since retired to Primarily Primates, a primate sanctuary in Texas where he settled down with a mate - a chimp mate. Whatever the ultimate findings are about Oliver, his peculiarities remain a mystery.

Next page: Zana, the Ape Woman

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