The humanzee is a hypothetical chimpanzee/human hybrid. Chimpanzees and humans are closely related (sharing 95% of their DNA sequence and 99% of coding DNA sequences), leading to contested speculation that a hybrid is possible.
It was the Soviet dictator's dream: Soldiers with no fear, with superhuman strength and endurance, who would follow any order, eat anything, and ignore pain or injury. Workers who could do the labor of ten men without complaint, with no thought of personal time off, and no desire for pay. A force to carry the Soviet Union through its Five-Year Plan for economic development, and to make the nation invincible in war. Stalin's goal, according to modern mythology, was no less than a slave race of scientifically bred beings that were half human and half ape; a race he hoped would combine tremendous physical strength, dumb loyalty, and a human's ability to follow direction and perform complex tasks.
Famous Russian biologist, Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov, has gained great fame and national acclaim with his work on artificially inseminating horses, increasing the number of horses that could be bred by a factor of about twenty at the beginning of the 20th century. For a pre-industrialized nation, this was a tremendous economic accomplishment. Primarily funded by the Veterinary Department of the Russian Interior Ministry, Ivanov carried this technology to its next logical step, the creation of specialized hybrid animals for agricultural and industrial purposes, as well as for the sake of advancing the science. His artificial insemination experiments successfully crossed many closely related species: donkeys and zebras, mice and rats and other rodents, birds, and various species of cattle.
As early as 1910, he gave a presentation to the World Congress of Zoologists in Graz, Austria, in which he described the possibility of creating such a hybrid by artificial insemination. He was citing artificial insemination as the method of choice due to prevailing ethical objections to, well, interspecies partying, for lack of a better term.
However, before he could make any progress, Ivanov's work came to an abrupt halt in 1917 with the Russian Revolution, which effectively dissolved most existing government programs and eliminated all of his funding. The new Soviet government was committed to technical innovation and science, but it took seven long years for Ivanov to rebuild his network of support. Ivanov's entire career could be fairly characterized as a constant fundraising effort, desperately seeking resources for his hybridization dream and other projects, and failing nine times out of ten. He should have been so lucky as to have the government come to him with an offer, much less an order.
One of the Communist leaders, soon to be The Soviet Dictator, Josef Stalin found the idea to create powerful and obedient warriors extremely attractive. He ordered the scientist to create the new type of soldiers by crossing humans with apes. Recently discovered documents in Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s, Ilya Ivanov was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.
According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: “I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.”
In 1924, the Politburo in Moscow passed the request to the Academy of Science with the order to build a “living war machine”. The order came at a time when the Soviet Union was embarked on a crusade to turn the world upside down, with social engineering seen as a partner to industrialization: new cities, architecture, and a new egalitarian society were being created.
Based on the published document, Stalin arranged substantial financing to a scientist Doctor Ivanov with $200,000 to find out if it was possible to create a human-ape hybrid, the “Humanzee.”
While working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Ivanov obtained permission from the Institute’s directors to use its experimental primate station in Kindia, French Guinea, for such an experiment. Ivanov attempted to gain backing for his project from the Soviet government. He dispatched letters to the People’s Commissar on Education and Science Anatoliy Vasilievich Lunacharsky and to other officials. Ivanov’s proposal finally sparked the interest of Nikolai Petrovich Gorbunov, the head of the Department of Scientific Institutions. In September 1925, Gorbunov helped allocate US$10,000 to the Academy of Sciences for Ivanov’s human-ape hybridization experiments in Africa.
In March 1926, Ivanov arrived at the Kindia facility, but stayed only a month without success. The Kindia site, it turned out, had no sexually mature chimpanzees. He returned to France where he arranged through correspondence with French Guinea’s colonial governor to set up experiments at the botanical gardens in Conakry.
Ivanov reached Conakry in November 1926, accompanied by his son, also named Ilya, who would assist him in his experiments. Ivanov supervised the capture of adult chimpanzees in the interior of the colony, which were brought to Conakry and kept in cages in the botanical gardens. On February 28, 1927, Ivanov artificially inseminated two female chimpanzees with human sperm. On June 25, he injected a third chimpanzee with human sperm. The Ivanovs left Africa in July with thirteen chimps, including the three used in his experiments. They already knew before leaving that the first two chimpanzees had failed to become pregnant. The third died in France, and was also found not to have been pregnant. The remaining chimps were sent to a new primate station at Sukhumi.
Although Ivanov attempted to organize the insemination of human females with chimpanzee sperm in Guinea, these plans met with resistance from the French colonial government and there is no evidence such an experiment was arranged there.
Upon his return to the Soviet Union in 1927, Ivanov began an effort to organize hybridization experiments at Sukhumi using ape sperm and human females. Eventually in 1929, through the help of Gorbunov, he obtained the support of the Society of Materialist Biologists, a group associated with the Communist Academy. In the spring of 1929, the Society set up a commission to plan Ivanov’s experiments at Sukhumi. They decided that at least five volunteer women would be needed for the project. However, in June 1929, before any inseminations had taken place, Ivanov learned that the only postpubescent male ape remaining at Sukhumi (an orangutan) had died. A new set of chimps would not arrive at Sukhumi until the summer of 1930.
Soviet leaders needed fast and efficient results. So, in 1930, Dr. Ivanov fell under political criticism from the Soviet government, was accused of sabotaging the Soviet agricultural system and various political crimes, leading to his arrest a few months later. He was sentenced to exile in the Kazakh SSR, where he worked at the Kazakh Veterinary-Zootechnical Institute and died of a stroke two years later.
So, this is the story…
There are two twists…
One of the urban legends say that the experiment was rather successful, and some of the surviving tenants have escaped into the surrounding forest from the Research Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, now war-torn questionable territory, and their whereabouts unknown. Most likely, this legend is just a legend, because all the related data I found online, is far from being conclusive and trustworthy.
The second twist is more on the experiments’ motives. This theory states, that the main reason for the experiments funding was more prosaic – communist leaders wanted to blast the religious believes by creating artificial human being. Therefore, Stalin indeed encouraged a doctor to find a way to create a human-ape hybrid, but it was not to create an army, rather, to disprove religion by proving that evolution was correct. In the 1920s, atheism found a perfect candidate to prove that humans and apes were related through crossbreeding. As the story goes, the atheistic and evolutionary agenda was to pair up genes of Asians with orangutans, Caucasians with chimpanzees, and gorillas with Africans, as these human “species” were more closely related to their ape counterparts than these three ape species were to one another! This racist plan failed miserably, and not one offspring formed. The facts demonstrated that crossbreeding humans with apes was not a viable experiment.
True? False? Maybe… Yes, both targets achievement would be nice for the Communist Russia, so it is quite possible that the dual target was to achieve.
Ivanov's work is the only acknowledged attempt to create a Humanzee, but rumors of other experiments persist. There are stories that an attempt was made in the 1920's at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Orange Park, Florida. University of Albany psychologist Gordon Gallup relates a story that as a young graduate student he had talked to a member of the research team who had been at Yerkes. The elderly scientist told Gallup that the experiment had resulted in a live birth, but the research team had decided to destroy the creature after only a few days. Another story from the 1960's has a female chimp at a laboratory in China being successfully impregnated with human sperm, but dying before giving birth.
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