Ilya Ivanovich was a Russian biologist born in 1870 who achieved a long list of accomplishments in his field, which happened to be artificial insemination. It was claimed that he could inseminate 500 mares with the sperm of just one stallion, which is impressive on both the scientist’s and the horse’s parts.
When you’re at the top of your game, your mind naturally wanders and you look for new challenges to keep you entertained. Ivanov was interested in taking animal sperm and putting it into different species to see what happened.
He began slowly, creating a zedonk (a cross between a zebra and a donkey), a rat-mouse (self-explanatory), a guinea pig-mouse, and some abomination from an antelope and a cow.
Then, in 1910, he told a group of zoologists that he believed it was possible to create a human-ape hybrid, now known as a “humanzee.” It was merely hypothetical at the time, much like biologists today speculating on what aliens might look like or astronomers speculating on when the James Webb Space Telescope will be launched.
Ivanov was not the first to have this dream, and he would not be the last. Though such a hybrid would be extremely unlikely to survive to term, claims of human-ape hybrids have been made long after Ivanov’s time. Oliver the chimp, who walked upright and was touted by his promoters as a hybrid, was one such animal until scientists proved otherwise.
His chance came after the 1917 Russian revolution, while working at the Institut Pasteur. It was here, in 1924, that he was given the opportunity to work on his dream hybridization scheme. The man, who is the last person you want near chimps, was told he could have unlimited access to chimps in a facility in what was then known as French Guinea.
He was given $10,000 by the Soviet Financial Commission to carry out his research before receiving approval from the Soviet Academy of Sciences and senior members of the Bolshevik government.
In his pitch, he emphasized that the experiment could prove Darwin’s theory about how closely we are related to apes, which would be a blow to religion. It’s also possible that the Bolsheviks were eager to demonstrate what could be accomplished through genetics, which fit in with their concept of “positive eugenics.”
He came to the facility to do what he did best: transfer sperm from one animal to another. In 1926, he and Serge Voronoff attempted to inseminate a chimp with human sperm after transplanting a human ovary into her. He tried it two more times and failed both times.
You’d think he’d admit defeat at this point, but Ivanov proposed an alternative (and far more horrifying) approach: taking chimp sperm and implanting it into African women without their knowledge or consent. The plan was to pretend that chimp insemination was just a medical exam, and then find out months later when they gave birth to an unusually hairy and suspiciously good at climbing baby. Fortunately, the French governor refused, and he traveled to Abkhazia with 20 apes.
He wasn’t finished yet. He intended to get himself a hairy humanzee one way or another, so he began recruiting Soviet women willing to do their part for science. Amazingly (again), he was able to persuade people to go along with it – and it would be amazing to see how this guy pitched, humanity clearly lost a great ad man to unhinged ape experiments.
At least five women volunteered for his experiment. Unfortunately, no apes survived long at the ape nursery, and despite having women, he ran out of sperm. Before he could ship in more, the Soviet Academy of Sciences learned of his plans to inseminate women in Africa without their consent, and all funding for the project was withdrawn on the grounds that it “might undermine African trust in European researchers and doctors and make problematic any further expeditions of Russian scientists to Africa.”
He was exiled in an unrelated purge of scientists by the government before finding a new way to carry on his work, and he died soon after, completely monkey-manless.