In 1910, the World Congress of Zoologists was held in Graz, Germany. Among the presentations there was one that could be considered, at least, extravagant: the proposal to obtain a hybrid of man and ape. The one who gave it was not an upstart but one of the most renowned scientists in the field of artificial insemination of higher animals, Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov . With the technology he developed, he managed to fertilize up to 500 cows with one stallion: it is not surprising that farmers from all over the world came to visit him. His work was impressive: “By artificial insemination, you can conceive a being whose father, at the time of insemination, not only exists, but does not even exist anymore in nature,” he wrote. Ivanov was the director of the experimental research station at the Askania-Nova Nature Reserve in Ukraine. At the institute you could see the results of their interspecies crosses: bison with cows, zebras with donkeys, antelope with cows, or rats with mice.
All this was the prelude to what was to come.
Before the Revolution, Ivanov tried to convince the owner of the nature reserve, Baron F. Falz-Fein, to finance his experiments, but the Baron refused: man had a divine origin and the very thought of doing so was already an act. serious sin. But the revolution came and, luckily for Ivanov, the Bolshevik atheists had no religious qualms and found a scientist who offered to cross the monkey with man and thus prove that we are not the work of a Creator . It was a time when the Party encouraged any project to improve human nature, a search to reach new limits. As Stalin’s comrade-in-arms (and later executed in one of his purges) Georgi Piatakov said: “The unlimited expansion of the possible, the transformation of what is considered impossible into possible, this is what characterizes the Communist Party Bolshevik. This is the true spirit of Bolshevism.”
In 1924, Professor Ilya Ivanov sent a memorandum to the People’s Commissar of Education A. Lunacharsky and the People’s Commissariat A. Tsyurup requesting that the government promote experiments to cross anthropoid apes and humans “in the interests of Russian science and the promotion of a natural view of the world among the masses”. For these experiments Ivanov asked for $15,000. But the government had other priorities, with a country hungry and impoverished after a civil war.
So Ivanov directed his steps to France. There, during his stay at the Pasteur Institute, he received permission from the directors to settle in the Primate Experimental Station in Kindia, in French Guinea, and carry out his research. It seemed that his luck was beginning to change: thanks to his international prestige, the British government promised to help him obtain the necessary money for the project and various North American patrons did their bit. Even in the USSR something was changing: Nikolai P. Gorbunov, a chemical engineer and manager of the Council of People’s Commissars, became interested in his proposal, and the chairman of the foreign procurement commission of the People’s Commissariat for Education, Novikov, wrote about the project: “…that the materialistic problem of human origin and materialistic scientific propaganda, which are inextricably linked with this experiment, should have been developed in our Union.” In September 1924 Gorbunov appropriated $10,000 from the Russian Academy of Sciences for Ivanov’s experiments.
In March 1926, Ivanov arrived in the city of Kindia, in Guinea, where he only stayed a month. The center had no chimpanzees that had reached puberty. He returned to France and shortly afterwards the French governor of Guinea gave him permission to carry out his experiments in the botanical garden of Conakry.
Ivanov arrived there in November 1926 accompanied by his son, also named Ilya, to help him with his experiments. Ivanov directed the capture of adult chimpanzees and in the jungles of Guinea and in the end, on February 28, 1927 Ivanov performed the first artificial insemination of two female chimpanzees , Babette and Syvette. Everything was done in secret because if the workers there found out what they were going to do they would suffer “very unpleasant consequences”, as Ivanov himself wrote. They failed. On June 25 they tried again and nothing. The Ivanovs left Africa in July but took thirteen chimpanzees with them, including the three used in their experiments. Two of them died on the way. When he arrived at Sujimi, by the Black Sea, the chimpanzees began to die of various diseases. We had to start with plan B: inseminate women with ape semen .
He had tried in Africa, but could not find volunteers: “it is necessary not only to increase the number of experiments on artificial insemination of female chimpanzees with human sperm, but also to carry out experiments in reverse. The latter is much more difficult and complicated to organize in Africa than in Europe. It is easier to find women who want to participate in the experiment in Europe than in Africa.”
In the spring of 1929, with Gorbunov’s help, the Academy of Sciences set up a commission to plan Ivanov’s Sukhumi experiments. The resolution of the commission, convened on April 14, 1929 in the Scientific Department of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR, said among other things that “hybridization experiments by artificial insemination of women with anthropoid sperm can be done only with the woman’s written consent” and that “they should be performed on as many women as possible, at least five” .
In July 1929, even before the experiment began, Ivanov learned that the only male monkey in Sukhumi, the orangutan that had reached puberty, had died. A new group of chimpanzees arrived in Sukhumi in the summer of 1930. The protocols of these experiments have not appeared, but there are suspicions that they were carried out not only in Sukhumi but also in the gulag, whose results we do not know.
What was the fate of the main initiator of the crossing of a man with a monkey Professor Ivanov? In mid-1933, an obituary was published in the Priroda magazine: “outstanding Soviet biologist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov passed away on March 20, 1932 at the age of 62.”