From the Depths of Stalin’s Russia: Human/Ape Hybrids
By: Ashlee Elfman
Did Stalin pursue the idea of using Eugenics to fashion an army of half-human, half-chimpanzees to fight for the Soviet Union? The idea may seem preposterous, but may be true.
Information on the subject is scant, but it has recently been entertained by Moscow newspapers, as well as by the Russian historian of science Kirill Rossiianov. In an academic journal written by Rossiianov entitled, Science in Context, he discusses experiments in which physiologist Il’ya Ivanov attempted to cross-breed apes and humans. It is rumored that Stalin once asked Ivanov to produce a half-chimp subhuman remarking, “I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.”
Previously, Ivanov had been known for his zoological experiments in crossbreeding wild animals with domestic ones, and also sought to preserve endangered species such as the European bison through artificial insemination.
Eager to begin his experiments, Ivanov contacted Cuban heiress Rosalia Abreu, who was among the first to breed chimpanzees in captivity. He hoped to acquire some chimpanzee sperm so he might inseminate his volunteer, a woman known anonymously as “G”. Hoping to raise money for his cause, Ivanov contacted the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, which proved to be his downfall.
Charles Smith, the association’s co-founder, went straight to the media with the potential experiment, and the idea of Soviet evolutionary experiments made a perverted splash in the biggest U.S. papers of the time. Abreu quickly backed out after receiving threats from a very concerned Ku Klux Klan, who believed the experiments were anti-God. Ironically, many racists at the time were connected to the idea of Eugenics, or the idea of scientifically selecting “superior” genes in order to create a “master race”.
Ivanov was never able to finish his inquiries into making a half-human half chimp. After being held up by the French government, and finding Soviet women willing to be inseminated with Chimp semen, he faced political problems.
At least five women volunteered. But although the nursery did get hold of an assortment of apes, they never flourished, and by the time Ivanov was ready to proceed the only adult male left was Tarzan, a 26-year-old orang-utan. Ivanov pressed on until fate dealt his project a fatal blow. Tarzan had a brain hemorrhage. “The orang has died, we are looking for a replacement,” Ivanov cabled the woman he had lined up to receive Tarzan’s sperm. More chimps arrived in 1930 – but Ivanov fell victim to the widespread purge of scientists and was exiled to Kazakhstan. He was released the next year but died soon after.
There are many reasons why Ivanov would have been so driven to succeed in his experiments. Soviet Russia was constantly seeking new ways to amp up their scientific assets, which would simultaneously serve to back up their Atheistic principles. While we know that none of Ivanov’s chimp or human subjects were able to conceive, time spun mythology, in addition to a healthy amount of irrational fear and repugnance, has kept the story alive.
In 1960 a curious bi-pedal chimpanzee with an abnormally flat face and a penchant for cigars came on the scene, named Oliver. It was speculated that Oliver was a half-man/half-ape from some scientific experiment gone horribly wrong (although Ivanov would have believed it went right). He lived the sad life of an exploited spectacle for many years. Recent scientific studies have determined that Oliver is in fact 100% ape, albeit with a few very unusual traits. The story of Oliver exemplifies the curiosity and anxiety many people harbor toward our relation to apes, and perhaps that’s why Ivanov’s experiments continue to spark such debate and interest.Tweet