Who is Oliver?

July 16, 2010

In the 1970s, Oliver the chimpanzee was touted as the “Humanzee” or “The Missing Link.” Purportedly part human and part chimpanzee, he walked upright and it is claimed that he smoked cigars and drank whiskey while watching television with his owner.

Because of his seemingly human-like characteristics, Oliver drew the attention of Japanese scientists and was flown to Japan for genetic testing, where he appeared on Japanese television and was seen by more 20 million viewers. The results of the testing proved inconclusive, however, and Oliver eventually disappeared from the public eye.

In 1998, the Buckshire Corporation agreed to release several laboratory chimpanzees to the Primarily Primates animal sanctuary in Texas. When they arrived, one of these chimpanzees didn’t crawl out of his transport cage — he walked out completely upright. This chimpanzee’s name was Oliver. Oliver had spent seven years locked up alone in a small cage and his muscles had atrophied.

Today, Oliver still lives at Primarily Primates, where he shares his current enclosure with another chimpanzee named Raisin, and where sanctuary staff are hoping to build him a new home. Primarily Primates has been able to build large, grass-bottomed habitats to house some of its chimpanzees, but the tough economy has made it challenging for the sanctuary to raise funds to build a new, larger, grass habitat for Oliver, who also has special needs due to blindness and advanced age.

To learn more about Project Oliver and efforts to build Oliver a new living space, please watch the Project Oliver Preview video.

In the 1970s, Oliver was touted as “The Missing Link” and was flown to Japan for genetic testing. (Photo property of Janet Burger)

Oliver walked upright, unlike other chimpanzees. (Photo by Russ Kinne)

Oliver was captured in the African Congo as a baby. Here in the 1970s, he stands on grass for a photo shoot. The goal of Project Oliver is to ultimately provide him with a more naturalistic home where he can once again stand on grass. (Photo by Russ Kinne)

Today, Oliver lives at Primarily Primates in a habitat many times the size of his former lab cage. Though he is mostly blind, his current habitat is outfitted with enrichment features that allow Oliver to find his way around his living space, which he shares with Raisin, another older chimpanzee. But lack of funding, and the need to accommodate Oliver’s physical limitations, has not yet made it possible for the sanctuary to build him a new home. Plans for his new living space will include similar adaptive features, in addition to grass and other naturalistic elements. (Photo by Traci Goudie)