Ilya Ivanov

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Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov
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Ilja Iwanow, Илья Иванов, Илья Иванович Иванов, русский др.Франкенштейн, Ilja Iwanowitsch Iwanow
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Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov (Russian: Илья́ Ива́нович Ивано́в, August 1 [O.S. July 20] 1870-March 20, 1932) was a Russian and Soviet biologist who specialized in the field of artificial insemination and the interspecific hybridization of animals. He was involved in controversial attempts to create a human-ape hybrid.


Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was born in the town of Shchigry, Kursk gubernia, Russia. He graduated from the Kharkov University in 1896 and became a full professor in 1907. He worked as a researcher in the Askania-Nova natural reserve, also for the State Experimental Veterinary Institute (1917–1921, 1924–1930), for the Central Experimental Station for Researching Reproduction of Domestic Animals (1921–1924), and for the Moscow Higher Zootechnic Institute (1928–1930).

Around the start of the 20th century, Ilya Ivanov perfected artificial insemination and its practical usage for horse breeding. He proved that this technology allows one stallion to fertilize up to 500 mares (instead of 20–30 by natural fertilization). The results were sensational for their time, and Ivanov's station was frequented by horse breeders from many parts of the world.

Human-ape hybridization experiments

The most controversial of Ivanov's studies was his attempt to create a human-ape hybrid. As early as 1910, he had given a presentation to the World Congress of Zoologists in Graz in which he described the possibility of obtaining such a hybrid through artificial insemination.

In 1924, while working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Ivanov obtained permission from the Institute's directors to use its experimental primate station in Kindia, French Guinea, for such an experiment. Ivanov attempted to gain backing for his project from the Soviet government. He dispatched letters to the People's Commissar on Education and Science Anatoliy Vasilievich Lunacharsky and to other officials. Ivanov's proposal finally sparked the interest of Nikolai Petrovich Gorbunov, the head of the Department of Scientific Institutions. In September 1925, Gorbunov helped allocate US$10,000 to the Academy of Sciences for Ivanov's human-ape hybridization experiments in Africa.

In March 1926, Ivanov arrived at the Kindia facility, but stayed only a month without success. The Kindia site, it turned out, had no sexually mature chimpanzees. He returned to France where he arranged through correspondence with French Guinea's colonial governor to set up experiments at the botanical gardens in Conakry.

Ivanov reached Conakry in November 1926 accompanied by his son, also named Ilya, who would assist him in his experiments. Ivanov supervised the capture of adult chimpanzees in the interior of the colony, which were brought to Conakry and kept in cages in the botanical gardens. On February 28, 1927, Ivanov artificially inseminated two female chimpanzees with human sperm . On June 25, he injected a third chimpanzee with human sperm. The Ivanovs left Africa in July with thirteen chimps, including the three used in his experiments. They already knew before leaving that the first two chimpanzees had failed to become pregnant. The third died in France, and was also found not to have been pregnant. The remaining chimps were sent to a new primate station at Sukhumi.

Although Ivanov attempted to organize the insemination of human females with chimpanzee sperm in Guinea, these plans met with resistance from the French colonial government and there is no evidence such an experiment was arranged there.

Upon his return to the Soviet Union in 1927, Ivanov began an effort to organize hybridization experiments at Sukhumi using ape sperm and human females.Eventually in 1929, through the help of Gorbunov, he obtained the support of the Society of Materialist Biologists, a group associated with the Communist Academy. In the spring of 1929 the Society set up a commission to plan Ivanov's experiments at Sukhumi. They decided that at least five volunteer women would be needed for the project.However, in June 1929, before any inseminations had taken place, Ivanov learned that the only postpubescent male ape remaining at Sukhumi (an orangutan) had died. A new set of chimps would not arrive at Sukhumi until the summer of 1930.

In the course of a general political shakeup in the Soviet scientific world, Gorbunov and a number of the scientists involved in the planning of the Sukhumi experiments lost their positions. In the spring of 1930, Ivanov came under political criticism at his veterinary institute. Finally, on December 13, 1930, Ivanov was arrested. He was sentenced to five years of exile to Alma Ata, where he worked for the Kazakh Veterinary-Zoologist Institute until his death from a stroke on 20 March 1932. The renowned physiologist and psychologist Ivan Pavlov wrote an obituary for him.

Popular culture

His work was one of the sources of inspiration for the unfinished satirical opera, Orango whose Prologue was sketched in 1932 by Dmitri Shostakovich with a libretto by Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy and Alexander Osipovich Starchakov but the whole was later abandoned and discarded. The manuscript was found by Olga Digonskaya, a Russian musicologist, in the Glinka Museum, Moscow in 2004 and orchestrated by Gerard McBurney; this work was premiered on 2 December 2011 in Los Angeles, California by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor) and staged by Peter Sellars (director).

The story of Ivanov's Human-ape Hybridization experiments was explored in an episode of Science's Dark Matters: Twisted But True.


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