Oliver was captured in Africa as a two-year-old in the 1960s and sold to animal trainers in the U.S. For the next few years he was exploited for the fact that he had a flatter face than most chimpanzees and tended to walk upright like a human. Perhaps, his owners suggested, he was a hybrid or a “missing link.”
For the next 30 years, Oliver was bounced from one miserable situation to the next – sold to a New York lawyer who took him to Japan for genetic testing in an attempt to prove he was “special” … to TV shows in Japan … back to the U.S. to a theme park in California until it closed … and to another one until it closed … and yet another … then to the Wild Animal Training Center until he was deemed aggressive. At various times he was made into a stage attraction and dragged around on a chain.
In 1989 Ollie was sold to the Buckshire Corporation, a laboratory in Pennsylvania, where he lived in a small cage for the next nine years. Although he was not used in medical experiments there, he just, quite literally, wasted away in the cage, his muscles atrophying until he developed uncontrollable trembling. In 1996, Primarily Primates petitioned Buckshire to release Oliver, and they agreed.
By now in his mid-30s, Oliver had arthritis and was half blind. When he arrived at Primarily Primates, a panel of new tests showed there was nothing genetically unusual about him – he was just a normal chimpanzee who happened to like walking upright. All the claims that had gone into his earlier exploitation were shown to be bogus.
For the next 16 years, Oliver lived comfortably at Primarily Primates and made friends with another chimp, Raisin, who gradually became his girlfriend from whom he would never be separated.
Last Saturday morning, June 2nd, he was found in his favorite hammock, having passed away peacefully during the night. Raisin was by his side.
You can watch a 2007 video story of his life here, including when Ollie and Raisin were first brought together.
And here’s the first part of a documentary about him – with links to the other five parts.