In the summer of 1926, a sensational news made headlines internationally about a soviet scientist Ivanov experimenting the cross-breeding of humans with apes.
The experiment corresponded with the Soviet utopian beliefs in creating a new kind of Socialist mankind. It was both frightening and fascinating to the world. What was Stalin up to now?
Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov (1870-1932), a professor at the Kharkov University, was a world’s leading specialist in artificial insemination (AI). He created cross-breeding techniques that were so successful that he was able to inseminate 500 mares with the semen of a single stallion. He had also created a zeedonk (a hybrid of zebra and donkey), a zubron (hybrid of European bison and cow) and several successful variations of rats, mice and guinea pigs.
In the 1910 World Congress of Zoologists in Graz, Austria he had already introduced his readiness to create a humanzee – a hybrid of human and chimpanzee. This idea found support by numerous internationally acclaimed scientists.
By 1924 his proposals to the Soviet government were approved and he received a grant of 10,000 dollars to conduct the hybrid ape-men experiments in West Africa. That was a colossal amount by today’s standards.
In February 1926 Ivanov set sail for French Guinea and on his way made a visit to the Paris Pasteur Institute where he was eagerly encouraged and granted access to the new primate centre in French Guinea.
The Chimpanzee Experiments
As none of the chimps was mature enough to breed, Ivanov returned to Paris in the summer of 1926 where he met Dr Serge Voronoff. Voronoff was the proponent of the controversial rejuvenation therapy. He implanted slices of ape testicles into those of rich and ageing men to restore their sexual function. It was very fashionable these days and made him a rich man.
With the help of Voronoff Dr. Ivanov transplanted a woman’s ovary into a female chimp named Nora and then inseminated her with a human sperm. That was a sensation.
In November 1926 Ivanov returned to Guinea to conduct three more inseminations of human sperm to chimpanzees. None of these experiments gave any positive results, mainly because he had too few test monkeys.
A change of strategy was inevitable. He then had the idea to transplant a chimpanzee sperm to a human. For that, he needed only one male ape donor and some volunteer women. Local Guinea women would be just a perfect subjects of the experiment, but they would never say yes. Ivanov then proposed the idea to conduct the insemination experiment under the pretext of routine medical examination. He found no ethical problem there. Luckily he was turned down by the local authorities.
Back in Russia
Ivanov then returned to the Soviet Union with 20 collected chimps and a plan to create a primate centre in Sukhumi, Georgia. Unfortunately only four chimps survived the voyage.
He was now facing a hard task of finding volunteer Soviet women who would sacrifice them for the sake of Soviet science and give birth to the human-ape hybrid baby. In 1928 one volunteer woman approached him from Leningrad. She (named just a G. in the medical records) said that after a divorce she had nothing to lose. Altogether five volunteers showed up.
The sperm donor was a 26-year old Orangutan male named Tarzan. Dr. Ivanov had all hopes on him, but in 1929 he was diagnosed brain haemorrhage and died.
While Dr. Ivanov was desperately looking for a replacement donor the political climate in Moscow had changed. Stalin’s purges had reached the circles of scientists and Ivanov was no exception.
He was arrested in 1930 and sentenced to five years of exile to Alma Ata. After release in 1932 he died of a stroke.