Ninety years ago, in February 1926, Soviet biologist, Ilya Ivanov, was sent to Africa to perform an experiment – inseminate a female chimpanzee with human sperm. Even then, crossbreeding monkeys and humans wasn’t the most ethical of ideas.
„Take me as an experiment”
“I dare to turn to you with a proposal. I understand from newspapers that you’ve made attempts to inseminate a chimpanzee with human sperm, but they were unsuccessful. I have been interested in such an experiment for a long time. My proposal is this: use me in your experiment. I beg of you, do not refuse me. I will gladly comply with any requirements that you may have for the experiment. I am sure of the possibility for insemination. If you end up refusing me, I then ask that you provide me with the address of one of the foreign zoologists”.
This was the letter that Ilya Ivanov received from a citizen of Leningrad in 1928. And it is not the only letter of its kind. Once information was out that the scientist was trying to crossbreed a human and a monkey, women from the entire Soviet Union wanted to participate in the uncanny experiment.
Ilya Ivanov (believed to be one of the best experts in the area of artificial animal insemination) might seem completely mad and obsessed with the idea of creating a mutant, but actually he started creating hybrids between mice and rats, mice and guinea pigs, zebras and donkeys, and antelopes and cows as early as 1899. The biologist was so pleased with his success that he decided it should be possible to create a hybrid between a monkey and a human.
He spoke of his idea during a conference of the World Congress of Zoologists in the Austrian city of Graz in 1910.
Unacceptability of the experiment
In 1935, the rector of the Moscow Technical University, Nikolai Gorbunov became interested in Ivanov’s ideas. Gorbunov believed that the hybrid will have “an important scientific value” and lure the attention of all countries to the Soviet Union. Ivanov repeatedly mentioned that in the West they wished to cross a monkey and a human, but they were afraid to commence such an experiment “because of its unacceptability in the conventional sense of morals and religion”.
Of course, the Soviet biologist confessed that the idea of creating the uncanny hybrid was not his. In 1908, Dutch naturalist, Bernelot Moens claimed it was possible to inseminate a gorilla or a chimpanzee with human sperm.
Moens was even raising money for an expedition to French Congo, where the experiment was to take place. The naturalist believed that it would be best to crossbreed the monkeys with dark-skinned people, since, according to him, such people were more closely related to monkeys.
Capturing a monkey
During the fall of 1925, Gorbunov succeeded in setting aside 10 000 dollars from The Academy of Sciences for the experiments of Ilya Ivanov in Africa. The very next year, the biologist left for a business trip to Kindia – the third largest city in French Guinea. Shortly after arrival, Ivanov found out that there was only one chimpanzee in the facility and it still hadn’t reached sexual maturity.
Then the scientist began corresponding with the governor of Guinea and was given permission to conduct the experiment in Conakry – administrative center of the country.
The biologist left for Conakry with Ilya’s son, who wanted to help his father with the experiment. Ivanov-senior personally observed the capturing of adult monkeys. “The methods for capturing chimpanzees were quite brutal,” wrote documentarian Oleg Shishkin. “At night, the villagers would follow the group of monkeys. After that (being armed with pitchforks and rakes), they would chase a chimp toward one tree and would set fire all around it. (…) After the chimp would jump on the ground, having no other choice, Africans would run towards it and hit it hard with the sticks. The dazed animal couldn’t do anything against the hunters and so they would tie its limbs to two rods which were carried by four men.”
The Experiment Failed
During February of 1927, Ivanov conducted an experiment to artificially inseminate 2 female chimpanzees with the sperm of unknown donors, and in the summer he conducted the experiment again with one more monkey, which was known as “The Black One”.
There was no conception in either of the three experiments.
But the biologist did not lose hope – he began suggesting the insemination of women with the sperm of a male chimpanzee, but his colleagues were not too enthusiastic about the idea. “Even though there is almost no tolerance for my experiments, I will not give up, and I will continue to look for opportunities to conduct even more experiments and receive answers to my questions. I am negotiating and hoping to receive some kind of support, if not from academic areas, then from sane people with no professional intolerance.”
It wasn’t meant for Ivanov’s experiments to succeed – soon the scientist was subjected to political criticism and was sent to the Almaty concentration camp where he died from cerebral hemorrhage.