EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS, ΦΒΚ
Caution! The evidence for this cross is poor.
Ape-human hybrids have been a viral topic on the internet. And many people think a cross between a human and a great ape might be feasible. However, despite the fact that apes and humans are so close in terms of their taxonomic classification, an extensive search of the literature has revealed surprisingly little reliable evidence that such a cross has ever occurred.
So given available information, it seems fair to say only that hybridization between humans and apes is much further from the realm of fact than are certain other crosses involving human beings. In particular, hybrids of this kind are far less well documented than such crosses as pig × human or cow × human, for both of which, there are many independent reports attested by many separate eyewitnesses. In both of these latter cases, it seems, given what has been reported, that there are even specimens that could perhaps be tracked down. The evidence is especially abundant for pig × human, where actual videos of putative hybrids are available. Even chicken × human has more evidence to support it than ape × human, given that a testable specimen is available in a known location.
Nevertheless, there is at least one case in which hybridization between an ape and a human being has been alleged by medical authorities I myself see little in the pictures of this specimen, shown here on this page, to suggest it was an actual ape-human hybrid. Be that as it may, we will now turn to what was actually reported.
The supposed hybrid birth happened in France on the 6th of January 1897. That morning at 7 a.m., a 16-year-old girl in the public maternity hospital in Vichy, produced an infant of indefinite sex that died a few moments after birth. Its spinal canal lay open as far down as the lumbar vertebrae and no brain was present. The latter condition gave the strange birth its name, “L’anencéphale de Vichy.” Anencephaly is the absence of major portions of the brain, skull and scalp.
Together with Dr. Louis Bounoure, a professor of biology at the University of Strasbourg, Dr. Amie Therre, the head physician of the hospital, wrote an account of this birth, L’Anencéphale à type simiesque de la Maternité de l'hôpital civil de Vichy. But in view of potential legal and professional repercussions, Bounoure waited to publish until he was an old man. His booklet first appeared in 1943. There he states that
The secret of the monster’s origin is in the presumed coupling of a strong and healthy sixteen-year-old girl of French nationality, with a young African anthropoid.
When questioned by the midwife and by ourselves alone and at length, she would say nothing about any sexual relations she may have had with this ape. She did, however, admit having lived in familiar association with him.
Also discreet inquiries in the vicinity of the place where the father—an individual who traveled from town to town—had parked his wagon confirmed that the father, daughter and ape all lived together in the wagon and that no other person consorted with them. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy]
The 11th-century cardinal Saint Peter Damian, in his De bono religiosi status et variarum animantium tropologia [Ch. XXIX], tells of a Count William whose pet monkey became his wife’s lover. The relevant passage, in translation, reads as follows:
“Now what follows is something I heard from the lord Pope Alexander less than a month ago. He told me that recently Count William, who lives in the district of Liguria, had a male monkey, called a maimo in the vernacular. He and his wife, a completely lewd and wanton woman, used to play in shameless fashion with him. I myself have met his two sons, whom this vile woman, who deserves a beating had borne of a certain bishop whose name I will omit, because I do not enjoy defaming anyone. She often used to play with the lecherous animal, taking it in her arms and fondling it, and the monkey in the meantime gave signs of being aroused and tried with obvious effort to come close to her nude body. Her chambermaid said to her, “Why don’t you let him have his way so we can see what he is after?” What more should I say? She submitted to the animal, and, what a shameful thing to report, it mated with the woman. This thing became habitual, and she frequently repeated the unheard of crime.
“One day when the count was in bed with his wife, aroused by jealousy the maimo suddenly jumped on both of them, tore at the man with his arms and sharp claws as if he were his rival, got him by the teeth and wounded him beyond all recovery. And so the count died. Thus as the innocent man was faithful to his wife and fed his animal at his own expense, he suspected no evil from either of them because he showed them only kindness. But what a heinous crime! The wife shamefully violated his marriage right, and the beast sank his teeth in his master’s throat. It was reported to the same pope while I was with him that a certain boy, who seemed big for his age, even though, as it was said, he was already twenty years old, was still completely unable to speak. Besides, he had the appearance of a maimo, and that was also what they called him. And so the unfortunate suspicion arose that something like a monster, I will not say a wild animal, was being brought up in its father’s house.” (translated in: Peter Damian. Letters 61-90, O.J. Blum translator, Letter 86, pp. 296-297).
Note: The word maimo refers, probably, to a baboon, or perhaps a macaque, and not to a true ape.
The description of the animal as a young African anthropoid indicates, almost certainly, that a male chimpanzee was in question. The only other African anthropoids are the bonobo, which at that time had not as yet been discovered, and the gorilla, which in 1897 was still quite rare in captivity and, in any case, would have made an implausibly large and dangerous travelling companion.
Beyond the circumstances just described, Bounoure and Therre thought this birth was a chimpanzee-human hybrid because it had certain ape-like traits (see below). These facts led them to conclude that “It seems beyond doubt that an explanation in terms of simian parentage should be invoked” (Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French: “il ne nous semble pas douteux que la fécondation simiesque puisse être invoquée.”).
However, I must say, I myself am not convinced. Having seen, during the course of my research, hundreds (thousands?) of actual, definitely identified hybrids, I would say the Vichy specimen has little or none of the composite character typically seen in animals resulting from hybrid crosses. Rather, it has the appearance of a child affected by a simple, if severe, developmental mutation.
The infant was 44 centimeters (17 inches) long. Its eyes were huge and bulging. Its thorax and extremities were, according to Bounoure and Therre, proportioned like those of an ape. They also noted out that its flat nose and large ears were ape-like traits. The organs of generation were hermaphroditic.
“And beyond these many malformations,” Therre wrote, “that which is most striking on initial view of this infant is its frankly simian aspect, above all in the proportions of its long limbs.” (Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French: “En dehors de ces malformations, ce qui frappe à première vue c’est son aspect franchement simiesque surtout par ses membres démesurément longs.”).
Therre states that the specimen was placed in a collection, but it is unclear exactly where, or if the specimen still exists today. Obviously, if it is still available for study, modern genetic techniques will easily establish its parentage.
The greatest doubt in connection with Bounoure and Therre’s allegation arises from the fact that other births are known, in which the infant was of a similar appearance, but in those other cases, no connection with an ape is alleged or even mentioned. Although these other cases seem to be of unknown etiology, they tend to undermine the good doctors’ argument.
Moreover, Renaissance encyclopedist Conrad Lycosthenes pictures what appears to be a similar individual (Lycosthenes 1557, p. 663), an infant born at Basel, Switzerland at a date when anthropoid apes were still unknown in Europe (see picture, right). And the physical description he gives of the infant, which died at birth, fits the bill.
It should perhaps be mentioned that there are many stories about women being abducted and raped by apes. Some of these are presented as fiction (as in the scene from King Kong in the video above) or as nonfiction. Thus, in an example of the latter, Maxse (1906) claims that the pygmies
Similarly, in writing about chimpanzees, Proctor (1877), claims that
Dodds (2006) compiled various early accounts, dating back as far as the sixteenth century, about marooned European women being impregnated by apes. Typically in such stories, the woman has committed some transgression that results in her being left on a desert island haunted by apes. There, she is whisked away to the cave of the Monkey King, where she is ravished and eventually gives birth to ape-human hybrids. Eventually, she is rescued by a passing ship and her harrowing experience becomes known the world.
Indeed many of the indigenes of the regions where chimpanzees reside, seem to have viewed chimpanzees and gorillas as being within the range of human variation. Thus, Cassell’s Natural History (vol. I, p. 9) states that
One might easily suppose that these notions of apes raping women were entirely fanciful. However, it seems that such things do occasionally occur. Thus, according to a recent news story, a wild chimpanzee was interrupted during an attempt to rape a female health worker in Ekiti State in southwestern Nigeria. Four previous rapes of local women by chimps were also blamed on the same individual, who was hunted down and killed. Orangutans have also been known to rape women.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).