This post is going to be a little different. I want to speak on chimaeras–hybrids of one or two animals. There haven’t been any encounters per say, but there are some interesting stories.
In Greek mythology, the chimaera was a fire-breathing, female monster “resembling a lion in the forepart, a goat in the middle, and a dragon behind.” Bellerophon, a Greek hero, along with the winged horse, Pegasus, slew the chimaera after its ceaseless rampage.
As far as genetics are concerned, and there is a lot to take in:
A genetic chimerism or chimera also chimaera (chimæra) is a single organism composed of cells with distinct genotypes. In animals, this means an individual derived from two or more zygotes, which can include possessing blood cells of different blood types, subtle variations in form (phenotype) and, if the zygotes were of differing sexes, then even the possession of both female and male sex organs (this is just one of many different phenomena that may result in intersexuality). Animal chimeras are produced by the merger of multiple fertilized eggs. In plant chimeras, however, the distinct types of tissue may originate from the same zygote, and the difference is often due to mutation during ordinary cell division. Normally, genetic chimerism is not visible on casual inspection; however, it has been detected in the course of proving parentage.
Another way that chimerism can occur in animals is by organ transplantation, giving one individual tissues that developed from a different genome. For example, transplantation of bone marrow often determines the recipient’s ensuing blood type.
If we are to go by this, chimaeras are probably pretty common, however, most people when they talk about chimaeras, it is more of the Greek variety. There were, however, genetic experiments taking place in Russia by the scientist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov.
Ivanov’s aim was to create a hybrid that combined human intelligence with ape-like strength. Ivanov was unsuccessful. He inseminated female chimps with human sperm, but pregnancy never took place. His next thought was to use ape sperm in human female volunteers, however, he was delayed by the death of his last orangutan.
A research facility in Orange Park, Florida was said to have succeeded. Well, renowned evolutionary psychologist, Gordon G. Gallup, Jr. was told by a reputable scientist working at the facility of their success.
“One of the most interesting cases involved an attempt which was made back in the 1920s in what was the first primate research centre established in the US in Orange Park, Florida,” Gallup told The Sun.
“They inseminated a female chimpanzee with human semen from an undisclosed donor and claimed not only that pregnancy occurred but the pregnancy went full term and resulted in a live birth.”
There is little reason to think such an experiment successfully took place – and plenty of reasons to believe it didn’t – but having an otherwise respected researcher make such a statement is drawing attention to this old rumour once again.
Despite the significance of this purported breakthrough, Gallup, now a researcher at the University of Albany, says dictates of conscience over the humanzee experiment didn’t take long to catch up with the scientists involved.
“In the matter of days, or a few weeks, they began to consider the moral and ethical considerations and the infant was euthanised,” Gallup told The Sun, adding that the unidentified mentor who confided in him attested to the veracity of the controversial saga.
“He told me the rumour was true. And he was a credible scientist in his own right.”
The idea of a humanzee making it through full gestation is a bit fishy, and then to eliminate the successful product is convenient. However, I too believe I would have done the same thing. To create a creature to be the only one of its kind… It would be incredibly lonely for the creature, probably heart-breaking.
Which leads me to my last example. A chimp named Oliver, that was found in Africa but acted like a human being.
Oliver was acquired as a young animal in 1970 by trainers Frank and Janet Berger. Supposedly, the chimpanzee had been caught in 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; was in the habit of walking bipedally, rather than on his knuckles, much more often than his chimpanzee peers (until he was later struck with arthritis); and may have preferred human females over chimpanzee females. In a December 16, 2006 Discovery Channel special, Janet Berger stated that Oliver started to become attracted to her when he reached the age of 16. He eventually tried to mate with her, and it became apparent that Oliver could no longer stay with Janet. She decided to sell Oliver to New York attorney Michael Miller.
That’s pretty heart-breaking for Oliver. It is said that he didn’t get along with other chimps, which leads me to believe he was something more, and this worked both ways. I think Oliver was too different for even other chimps to fully accept him. He was, however, found to be a normal chimp. It was originally believed that he had 47 chromosomes, whereas chimps have 48 and humans have 46, but DNA results discovered he had all 48.