The idea that humans and gorillas (or humans and chimpanzees) could cross-breed sounds not just bizarre, but like something straight out of nightmarish science-fiction. Indeed, such a thing should not be possible in the slightest.
Yes, it is quite true that gorillas and humans are, at a genetic level, approximately 98 percent identical. It is, however, this two remaining percent that accounts for the many and varied differences between human beings and the great apes.
And it is this small percentage of differences that, in part, prevent cross-breeding from occurring between apes and humans. This has not, however, prevented rumors and tales from circulating to the effect that such breeding has occurred.
Born in Mexico in 1834, Julia Pastrana was a woman afflicted by what is termed congenital, generalized hypertrichosis, or as it is most often referred: Wolf Man Syndrome. In severe cases, this condition not only causes strange psychological behaviour and wild emotional mood swings, but the body and face of the victim becomes covered in thick hair
For the most part, however, people with the condition display, beneath that thick hair, the normal facial appearance and skull-structure as the rest of us. But, Julia Pastrana was noticeably and gruesomely different.
Most unfortunately, and like a lot of people with physical deformities in centuries past, Pastrana was forced to earn a meager living in so-called circus freak-shows, at which she was sensationally advertised as being half-human and half-ape.
But, Pastrana’s appearance gained her far more notoriety than many others with hypertrichosis who simply sported an over abundance of facial and body hair. The main reason being: she had double rows of teeth which sat within powerful, protruding jaws that were of a deeply ape-like appearance.
Indeed, her appearance was not just of someone affected by too much hair, but of a person who looked downright savage and animalistic. Even the renowned Charles Darwin described Pastrana as resembling nothing less than a gorilla.
And that, while on display at a Moscow, Russia circus in 1860, Pastrana gave birth to a daughter who looked equally as savage only inflamed the rumors of her possibly highly controversial origins even further. Sadly, both mother and baby died quickly afterwards.
Then there is the saga of Oliver, a chimpanzee caught in the Congo in 1960, at the estimated age of around two, by a pair of animal trainers named Frank and Janet Berger. But, some suggested – particularly as he began to grow, mature and mix with both his own kind and with humans – Oliver might not have been a chimpanzee, after all.
Or, more correctly: he might not have been just a chimpanzee. He could have been what has become known as a humanzee, a term created to define a hybrid creature that is part ape and part human.
That Oliver only ever walked on two legs and never used the knuckles of his forelimbs, that he clearly evidenced a few differences in his facial features from those in other chimps, and that he preferred the company of human females to those of his own kind, made some wonder if Oliver was a cross-breed.
DNA tests undertaken in 1996, however, demonstrated that while Oliver certainly walked in a decidedly unusual fashion for a chimpanzee, displayed uncharacteristic social behavior, and looked somewhat different to others of his kind, Oliver was definitely all-chimp. He died, in his mid-fifties, in June 2012.
Nevertheless, tales – utterly unconfirmed, of course – continue to circulate quietly within cryptozoological circles that the unthinkable really has occurred…
Nick Redfern’s new book, Monster Files, is available now from New Page Books.