Is it possible that ancestors of early humans have survived in isolated areas of the Earth? Have specimens of them actually been captured and studied? Consider these incredible, mysterious creatures.
IT IS WIDELY accepted in the scientific community that over millions of years humans evolved from lower life forms, most recently from small, ape-like creatures. But is it possible that some of those ape-like creatures have survived to the present day? Do some of these "missing links" survive today as what have become known as Bigfoot, Sasquatch or the Alma? Does information from these primitive ancestors still reside in our genetic makeup and occasionally result in the birth of a genetic throwback?
These are all tantalizing puzzles presented by documented cases of strange creatures and people -- some of which are more animal-like than human, and others which are more human than animal-like, but all of which seem to be some bizarre mixture of the two.
Here are a few fascinating cases:
THE STORY OF OLIVER
Oliver was one of the most closely studied chimpanzees in history, in large part because of his odd appearance and behavior. His behavior was so humanlike, in fact, that it was suspected by some that he might actually be a human-chimp hybrid -- the result of some secret genetic experiment. Some called him a "humanzee".
Oliver was born in the African Congo where he was captured in the early 1970s and sold with a dozen other chimps to Frank and Janet Burger, animal trainers from South Africa. Immediately, they recognized that Oliver was quite different than the other chimps they worked with. He looked different, for one thing. Although young, he lacked hair on his chest and head. His ears and jawline were shaped somewhat differently than a normal chimp's. Most astonishingly, Oliver always walked upright with a decidedly human gait. He learned to use a toilet, liked to watch TV with the Burgers, drink coffee and beer with them, and even took on simple household chores like feeding the dog.
Oliver's remarkable intelligence brought him a modicum of fame, touring the world throughout the 1970s and performing before an estimated 26 million people. He even made appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and at New York's Radio City Music Hall.
Oliver preferred the company of humans to that of other chimps. The feeling on the part of other chimps was mutual; they tended to avoid him. Oliver's comfort with humans even crossed the boundaries of social propriety when he made sexual advances toward Janet Burger and other human females.
It was shortly after these incidents that Oliver was sold to a New York attorney and later to West Coast animal trainers who promoted him as "The Missing Link" and showcased him in a traveling act of trained chimps.
Was Oliver a human-chimp hybrid, a kind of mutant chimp or one of some new species?
In the sensationalized publicity that surrounded Oliver, it was reported that he had 47 chromosomes - one less than an ordinary chimpanzee and one more than a human being. These reports were refuted in 1997, however, when genetic testing revealed that he had 48 chromosomes, just like any other chimp. This eliminates the human-chimp hybrid theory, but does not rule out the possibility that Oliver might be a mixture of common and pygmy chimps or part of a new, unknown species.
Oliver has since retired to Primarily Primates, a primate sanctuary in Texas where he settled down with a mate - a chimp mate. Whatever the ultimate findings are about Oliver, his peculiarities remain a mystery.
ZANA, THE APE WOMAN
Tales of feral children - children who were raised in the wild by animals - are well known. But the story of Zana is perhaps the most perplexing case on record.
In 1850, a group of hunters were prowling the Ochamchir region of Georgia in Russia when they were astonished by the sight of a young female wild woman. She looked somewhat human, but also had many ape-like features. With great difficulty, they captured the woman and brought her to civilization for study where they named her Zana.
Although she was clearly not an ape, Zana didn't look quite human either. Unlike other feral captures, which were obviously human in appearance, she had thick arms, legs and fingers, a massive bosom and was covered with dark hair. More primitive still was her behavior, which was so vicious that she had to be kept caged for the first few years of her captivity.
The details of her life in the Russian village are sketchy, but apparently Zana's behavior mellowed after a few years and she was taught to perform such domestic tasks as grinding corn. It was said that she had a remarkable tolerance for the cold and disliked being in a heated room.
Although Zana never learned to communicate through human speech, she obviously had developed social abilities since she gave birth to several children sired by various human fathers. How these pregnancies came about exactly is unclear, but it is known that Zana accidentally killed at least one of her children by trying to bathe it in a cold river. Apparently, she thought her offspring had the same tolerance to cold as she did.
Several of her other children were taken from her, for their protection, by families in the village who raised them as their own. Unlike their mother, the children did learn to speak and they eventually had children of their own. Zana died in 1890, and the youngest of her children survived until 1954. Her grandchildren, according to researchers, had dark skin, Negroid features and were extraordinarily strong.
What was Zana? Professor Boris Porchnev of the Moscow Academy of Sciences believed Zana might have been an Alma. An Alma is an elusive creature of Central Asia that is somewhat akin to our own Sasquatch, but with an important difference. Almas are said to be much more humanlike than the common descriptions of Sasquatch. And Porchnev theorized that they might be a surviving clan of Neanderthals!
It has been recently speculated that Neanderthals could and did breed with homo sapiens in the distant past. And, just perhaps, not so long ago. Zana certainly fits the description.
Another creature whose description by eyewitnesses sounds more like a surviving "caveman" than the huge Bigfoot is the Orang-Pendak that is said to inhabit the forests of Sumatra.
The Orang-Pendak has been estimated to be only two and a half to five feet in height; its name, in fact means "little man" or "short person." It walks upright, like a man, and has pinkish-brown skin under a covering of short, dark hair.
Natives of Sumatra accept the Orang-Pendak as a real creature, and although they've been accused of mistaking an orangutan or gibbon for this creature, they insist they know the difference. The Orang-Pendak has been spotted by explorers as recently as 2009, and expeditions organized to find it continue to this day.