Ape-human Hybrids

Hybrids out of History

Mammalian Hybrids



He that had never seen a river, imagined the first he met with to be the sea; and the greatest things that have fallen within our knowledge, we conclude the extremes that nature makes of the kind.
—Michel de Montaigne
Essays, I. 26
L'anencéphale de Vichy L'anencéphale de Vichy, an alleged ape-human hybrid born to a 16-year-old girl in Vichy, France in 1897. It was born without a brain, that is, it was anencephalic.

L'anencéphale de Vichy Alleged human-chimpanzee hybrid born in France in 1897.

L'anencéphale de Vichy
Posterior view.

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. But few are aware that there is at least one case of hybridization between a human being and an ape already on record. It 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 alleged ape-human hybrid, 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, he 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]

A rapist chimp: There have been many claims over the years that wild chimpanzees occasionally abduct women, ostensibly to rape them. And a recent news story seems to confirm the occurrence of such behavior. According to the report, 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.

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 many ape-like traits, which will be detailed below (and which can be seen in the pictures on this page). 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.”).

Il'ya Ivanov
Ivanov. During the 1920s Russian biologist Il'ya Ivanov attempted to produce ape-human hybrids by impregnating chimpanzees with human semen (Rossianov 2002). However, he managed to carry out only three such inseminations, so his failure to produce any actual hybrids is not surprising. Hybrid crosses typically require more, in some cases many more, inseminations to produce a pregnancy than do ordinary matings between two animals of the same kind.

The infant, which was 44 centimeters (17 inches) long, was anomalous not only with respect to its brain and spinal canal, but also its eyes, which were huge, its nose, which was flat like an ape’s, its ears, which were very large, as well as its thorax and extremities, which were proportioned like those of an ape. The organs of generation were hermaphroditic (a condition often seen in hybrids).

“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.”). These proportions are especially apparent in the uppermost of the three photos on this page.

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 in fact an F₁ chimpanzee-human hybrid and it is still available for study, modern genetic techniques will easily establish its parentage.

Notice: I have plans to greatly expand this article on ape-human hybrids, but the amount of historical material associated with this topic is dauntingly voluminous. So there is a lot of work left to do. In the meantime, here’s a link to the earliest case of an alleged ape-human hybrid that I’ve as yet run across.

The fact that this particular hybrid was inviable may suggest to some that all other hybrids from this cross would also be inviable. However, in my experience looking at thousands of different types of hybrid crosses, it has been commonplace for one and the same cross to produce both viable and inviable individuals. Similar lesions involving non-development of the brain, or even its development outside the body (“exencephaly”), occur in many pheasant-chicken hybrids (Phasianus colchicus × Gallus gallus), for example. And yet, many hybrid individuals from this cross are perfectly viable and develop normally.

So there is really no reason, with a sample size of one, to reach any general conclusion. Each different type of cross must be evaluated separately. And in the case of this particular cross, the size of the sample is so very small that the risk of reaching an incorrect conclusion through a lack of experience is still large. It’s just the sort of situation that Montaigne described in the epigraph at the top of this page.

Wikipedia states that the 11th century monk Saint Peter Damian “in his De bono religiosi status et variarum animantium tropologia [Ch. XXIX] tells of a Count Gulielmus whose pet ape became his wife’s lover. One day the ape became [so] "mad with jealousy" on seeing the count lying with his wife that it fatally attacked him. Damiani claims he was told about this incident by Pope Alexander II and shown an offspring claimed to be that of the ape and woman.” Damian, however, uses the word maimo to refer to the animal, so it was probably a baboon, or perhaps a macaque, and not a true anthropoid ape.

The greatest doubt in connection with this cross 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 case for simian parentage.


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 old allegations of women being abducted by chimpanzees. For example, Maxse (1906) claims that the pygmies

appear to be as closely related to the chimpanzee monkey as it is possible for human beings to be, and the affinity is so far recognised by the chimpanzee of the present day that there are stories current of pygmy women being carried away by male monkeys and destroyed by their jealous wives.

Similarly, in writing about chimpanzees, Proctor (1877), claims that

women in particular are often said to be carried away by these animals, and one negress is reported to have lived among them for the space of three years, during which time they treated her with uniform kindness, but always prevented any attempt on her part to escape.

Indeed many of the indigenes of the regions where chimpanzees reside, seem to have viewed chimpanzees and gorillas as human beings rather than animals. Thus, Cassell’s Natural History (vol. I, p. 9) states that

Human hybrids:

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Human × Goose

The missionaries, when they were established in the Gaboon region, found that all along the coast the Gorillas were believed by the natives to be human beings, members of their own race degenerated. Some natives who had been a little civilised, and who thought a little more than the rest did not acknowledge this relationship but considered them as embodied spirits, the belief in the transmigration of souls being prevalent. They said that the enche-eko, or Chimpanzee, has the spirit of a coastman, being less fierce and more intelligent than the enge-ena or Gorilla, which has that of a bushman. The majority, however, fully believed them to be men, and seemed to be unaffected by the arguments offered to disprove this fancy; and this was especially true of the tribes in the immediate vicinity of the locality. They believed them to be literally wild men of the woods.

If such was really the case, then local women in times gone by may have looked upon sexual relations with an ape as being just as natural as those with a man.

Great ape hybrids >>

Bonobo × Chimpanzee >>

Table of contents >>

Bibliography >>

Biology Dictionary >>

By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).

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