SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Oliver, a chimpanzee known for his upright stature and humanlike traits, has died at a Texas wildlife refuge after spending much of his life in circus shows and research labs.
Oliver died Saturday, said Stephen Rene Tello, executive director of Primarily Primates, the San Antonio animal sanctuary where the chimp had lived since 1998. Oliver was mostly blind, had no teeth and suffered from arthritis.
Tello told The Associated Press the sanctuary plans a private memorial later in the week. He said Oliver will be cremated and his ashes will be spread near where the chimps live on the sanctuary.
Tello told the San Antonio Express-News that Oliver's girlfriend, Raisin, was by his side when caretakers found him.
Oliver, who walked upright almost all of the time, was believed to be at least 55 years old. His exact age was not known because he was pulled from the wild in the Congo by two animal trainers as a youngster, Tello said.
The subject of a Discovery Channel documentary in 2006, Oliver came to the sanctuary after being relocated from a research lab in Pennsylvania. Tello said the lab didn't perform any studies on Oliver during his decade there because the staff could tell he was special: "He was just on a different level; he had very humanlike traits."
Oliver had been dubbed the "Humanzee" and was touted as a missing link. In a 1997 story, the San Antonio Express-News reported that the chimpanzee was put on display throughout the world in the 1970s.
"But for the last part of his life, he got to live in a safe haven -- a nonexploitive, noncommercialized world where he was surrounded by people who love him and in companionship with others of his kind," Tello said.
Rumors had circulated for years that Oliver had 47 chromosomes, representing a biological amalgam between man and ape. Human beings have 46 chromosomes, chimps 48.
But a geneticist who analyzed Oliver's chromosomes told the newspaper in in 1997 that Oliver had 48 chromosomes. And his findings matched up with chromosome studies done in the late 1970s in Japan.
Shelly Ladd, enrichment coordinator at the sanctuary, tried to keep life interesting for the aging chimp in declining health.
"He loved coconut sorbet -- that got the biggest hoots and hollers," she said. "But if he didn't like something, he'd hand the bowl back to you."