Monday, March 24, 2008

Ilya Ivanov and Stalin's Ape-man Army...

I have mixed feelings about that History Channel show "Monster Quest". It often comes down more-or-less on the skeptical side of things, but it usually waits until the last five minutes to do so, occasionally leading the casual, channel-surfing viewer to erroneous conclusions. A recent episode detailed claims that Josef Stalin and his goons attempted to create an army of ape-men (replete with bad CGI representations of gorilla soldiers marching through Red Square in bright red body armor). A friend of mine at work asked be about this the other day and I was taken aback - it really isn't a claim that I've ever heard before. It's a bit of a strange situation, since Stalin was batshit insane and Soviet "science" during the early days of the USSR was also, well, batshit insane, so it almost sounds plausible, but the whole "army of gorilla warriors" thing seems more in line with the Shredder or Lex Luthor than Josef Stalin. Naturally I had to look into it.

Plugging "Josef Stalin ape-man army" in Google, which is not something I ever expected to do, brings up a raft of strange websites, from Stormfront's empty-headed white supremacist rantings to UFO Digest's hilarious story about how these experiments took place but failed because humans themselves were created by genetic manipulation on the part of the Zeta Reticulans. Unfortunately, most of the sites I found exclusively use the History Channel show as their source, or refer to a pair of articles from the New York Times and the Scotsman that I can't find anymore.

As far as I have been able to determine, the meat of the matter is this - A scientist named Ilya Ivanov was one of the pioneers of the use of artificial insemination to breed horses. After a while he got the idea to create other hybrid animals, which is fair enough I suppose. He even succeeded in creating a hybrid zebra-donkey and a hybrid cow-bison, both of which look and function exactly as you'd expect. He also apparently created a guinea pig-rabbit, which I'd think would have remarkable commercial appeal. He had toyed with the idea of a human-chimp hybrid for years, not to create a super soldier but (apparently) purely out of theoretical interest, but didn't secure funding for it until around 1925.

His first attempts utilized human sperm, female chimps, and (I guess) something akin to a turkey baster. There may have also been some Kenny G music involved. He was able to obtain and experiment on three sexually mature chimps but failed to impregnate any of them. He eventually decided to try inseminating human females with chimp sperm but, amazingly, was unable to find any great number of volunteers among either group. (Seriously. Even though in this day and age you can just walk into Walgreens and get sexually mature male chimps right off the the rack next to the disposable cameras, they were hard to come by in 1920s Communist Russia.) This particular set of experiments never got off the ground at all - the sudden Soviet backlash against "western science", genetics prominently included, led to Inanov's arrest and banishment to either Kazakhstan or the Phantom Zone (my sources conflict on this issue), where he died in 1932.

Interestingly, Monster Quest eventually notes that Stalin had only a passing interest in the project and never came close to supporting it in the way that some folks would have us believe. Strangely though, a lot of the folks discussing the matter online seem to have missed the last 5 minutes (literally) of the show. Monster Quest has impressed me (a bit) with its treatment of "skyfish" (or "rods") and of giant bird sightings, but its strange attempt to create drama by withholding critical information until the end of any given episode seems to be a stumbling block non-critical viewers. Folks will catch ten minutes of the middle of the show and come away with the impression that something the show eventually discredits is being presented as fact. It's a strange situation, but not as a strange as an army of ape-men.

4 comments:

JAK said...

This is discussed in a little more detail in Alex Boese's book, Elephants on Acid.

Skippy said...

Thanks for the tip. I went out and picked that book up yesterday, but I've not had the chance to do much with it yet. Looks fascinating though.

Voronoff said...

learn more about ivanov's contemporary Serge Voronoff who worked with ilya to inseminate a female monkey thanks to the pasteur institute. voronoff became world famous for grafting monkey testicle glands into men and ovarys into women. please visit my tribute to an illustrious ancestor at www.voronoff.wordpress.com

Ex-Dissident said...

I just watched Twisted on the Science channel and followed up by searching the net for more information. I understand that Ivanov went to Kazakhstan towards the end of his life and continued his experiments there. Borat appears to be excessively hairy and may be a descendant of such experiments.