DOLPHIN IN DESPAIR
This aquatic mammal is known for its playful spirit and range of emotions, but dolphins have bad days too. Researchers say that the animal has a hard time accepting death, and will often stay with a deceased infant or pod member for days. This ritual recently was captured on film when tourists took photos of a devastated mother holding her dead baby above water and carrying it deeper into the sea.
Monica Szczupider/National Geographic
Chimpanzees’ close genetic makeup to humans means they get some of our faults as well. The primates are known to become distressed when they lose close members of their groups. The animals will often cry, refuse food, mope and separate themselves during grieving periods. One poignant example of chimpanzee mourning was the case of Dorothy . When the older chimpanzee died and was taken away from her rescue center, all the other chimps gathered seemingly to say their goodbyes and to watch the body leave. ABC News
LOSING YOUR BEST FRIEND
The bonds a human can form with a dog are deep, and research indicates that canines feel them too. Studies show that dogs can feel grief, especially after the loss of an owner. The pets will react to their emotions by not eating, sleeping more than usual and generally being lethargic. Some dogs will also show a lack of acceptance that an owner has died, and willtry to stay with him or her. This was seen with a dog that belonged to a slain Navy SEAL. The dog, Hawkeye, refused to leave the side of his owner’s coffin during the funeral. (The [Del.] News Journal)
The complex social structures of gorillas and their higher level of thinking makes it easier for them to form strong connections to their children and pack members. As a result, gorillas have been recorded exhibiting sadness and concern for their dead, sometimes even burying the bodies. One heartbreaking example is Gana, who could not accept the death of her child. Gana carried the infant’s body with her around a German zoo for days, trying to restore life to it multiple times, and protecting it from zookeepers. (Daily Mail)
Elephants are extremely emotional animals, easily bonding with other elephants or the humans who care for them. These deep attachments can lead to terrible grief when a loved one dies. Elephants are known to shed tears, bury their dead, go into depression and starve themselves in reaction to a loss. One elephant at an Indian zoo was so distraught over the death of her friend that she refused to eat or drink, leading to her own death. (BBC)
GEESE MATE FOR LIFE
Geese are very serious about commitment, devoting themselves to one bird for a lifetime. After a goose dies, its mate will undergo a rigorous mourning process, including weight loss, separation from the flock and submission to other geese. Eventually, the goose will find a new mate in another bird that has lost its partner. One goose made an unusual choice for her new mate, choosing to leave her flock and bond with humans that worked at a Dollar Store. (KYTV)
SPERM WHALES’ TOOTHACHE
Sperm whales form close relationships with the members of their pods, even following those who stray from the group so they won’t be alone. If a member is removed from the group through death, the remaining whales become mentally agitated for long periods. Research shows that this turmoil is so far-reaching that the teeth of the animal will become weaker during these periods. (ABC News [Australia])
Scientists have found that baboons’ physiological response to death is very similar to humans, with both seeing an increase in stress hormones called glucocorticoids. To lower glucocorticoid levels and cope with loss, baboons also respond like we do: they seek out friends.The animals will expand their social circles and spend more time with other baboons, engaging in activities like grooming. (University of Pennsylvania)
Stereotypes say that cats are loners, but observation has shown that many felines grieve when they lose an owner or cat friend. This process can include running away, not eating, excessive meowing and house-training mistakes. One example of an inconsolable cat is Muschi, who lost her unlikely bear friend, Mausi. Zookeepers said the cat refused to leave the bear’s old exhibit, and would not stop meowing for her companion.
Sea lions have been seen to cry out in anguish when their babies are taken by predators. A sea lion will continue wailing in mourning after its child has died. The same behavior has also been seen in sea lions dealing with companions taken by hunters. (Psychology Today )
ROME – Since his owner died two months ago, Tommy the dog has not missed a single mass in the small church in southern Italy where his mistress’s funeral was held, Italian media said Wednesday. When the bells of the Santa Maria Assunta church begin to toll each afternoon in San Donaci near Brindisi, the 12-year-old German Shepherd sets off from the village to get himself a front row seat next to the altar, II Messaggero newspaper said.
The Story of Hachiko
Shibuya Station as it was in the Taisho and Pre-war Showa eras (1912-1945)
In 1924, Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo, took in Hachiko, a golden brown Akita, as a pet. During his owner’s life, Hachiko greeted him at the end of each day at the nearby Shibuya Station.
The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and died, never returning to the train station where Hachiko was waiting.
Each day for the next nine years Hachiko awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station.
Hachiko attracted the attention of other commuters. Many of the people who frequented the Shibuya train station had seen Hachiko and Professor Ueno together each day.
Initial reactions from the people, especially from those working at the station, were not necessarily friendly. However, after the first appearance of the article about him on October 4, 1932 in Asahi Shimbun, people started to bring Hachiko treats and food to nourish him during his wait.
In 1932, one of Ueno’s students (who developed expertise on the Akita breed) saw the dog at the station and followed him to the Kobayashi home (the home of the former gardener of Professor Ueno-Kikuzaboro KobayashiQI) where he learned the history of Hachiko’s life.
Shortly after this meeting, the former student published a documented census of Akitas in Japan. His research found only 30 purebred Akitas remaining, including Hachiko from Shibuya Station.
He returned frequently to visit Hachiko and over the years published several articles about the dog’s remarkable loyalty. In 1932 one of these articles, published in the Tokyo Asahi Shimbun, placed the dog in the national spotlight.
Hachiko became a national sensation. His faithfulness to his master’s memory impressed the people of Japan as a spirit of family loyalty all should strive to achieve. Teachers and parents used Hachiko’s vigil as an example for children to follow.
A well-known Japanese artist rendered a sculpture of the dog, and throughout the country a new awareness of the Akita breed grew.
Eventually, Hachiko’s legendary faithfulness became a national symbol of loyalty, particularly to the person and institution of the Emperor.
June 25, 2013
Want to Understand Mortality? Look to the Chimps
By MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER
Pansy was probably in her sos when she died, which is pretty good for a chimpanzee. She passed in a way most of us would envy -peacefully, with her adult daughter, Rosie, and her best friend, Blossom, by her side. Thirty years earlier, Pansy and Blossom arrived together at the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park near Stirling, Scotland.They raised their children together . Now, as Pansy struggled to breathe, Blossom held her hand and stroked it.
When the scientists at the park realized Pansy’s death was imminent, they turned on video cameras, capturing intimate moments during her last hours as Blossom, Rosie and Blossom’s son, Chippy, groomed her and comforted her as she got weaker .After she passed, the chimps examined the body, inspecting Pansy’s mouth, pulling her arm and leaning their faces close to hers. Blossom sat by Pansy’s body through the night. And when she finally moved away to sleep in a different part of the enclosure, she did so fitfully, waking and repositioning herself dozens more times than was normal. For five days after Pansy’s death, none of the other chimps would sleep on the platform where she died.
This account was published in 2010 in the journal Current Biology, but it’s not the only time scientists have watched chimpanzees, bonobos and other primates deal with death in ways that look strikingly like our own informal rituals of mourning: watching over the dying, cleaning and protecting bodies and displaying outward signs of anxiety. Chimps have been seen to make loud distress calls when a comrade dies. They investigate bodies as if looking for signs of life. There are many cases of mothers refusing to abandon dead infants, carrying and grooming them for days or even weeks. Still, it’s rare to capture primate deaths, especially those of chimpanzees and bonobos, in detail. Ithappens just often enough that many scientists are starting to think there’s something interesting, maybe protohuman going on.
But this sort of speculation is laden with epistemological issues: are the scientists guilty of anthropomorphizing their subjects? Are these just isolated events? Are they more likely in captivity? Stories like Pansy’s are mere anecdotes in a world that demands testable hypotheses, and they color the fringes of a continuing scientific debate: Can we look for aspects of our culture in the behavior of other primates?
Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposal to put chimpanzees on the federal endangered species list. (Wild chimps have officially been endangered since 1990.) The goal is to clear up a bureaucratic catch that treats some chimps different from others, but it has big implications for what we can do with the animals -both as medical-research subjects and comic relief on screen. It’s also part of a shift in how we perceive chimps: Are they just animals, or are they something closer to us? Understanding how chimpanzees cope with death is part of that increasing sense of closeness.
Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, is convinced that an ape death he witnessed gave him a glimpse into something significant, especially because the animals acted so thoroughly against their own interests. “As a person, I can tell you what it feels like to watch,” says Hare, who describes the experience as emotionally intense. “As a scientist, though, you’re supposed to rely on ideas that can be tested and falsified. And how could you possibly do an ethical experiment here?” Hare studies how chimpanzees and bonobos solve problems, and in 2007 he happened to see one of our closest evolutionary relatives die. He was at a bonobo orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo when Lipopo, a newcomer to the orphanage, died unexpectedly from pneumonia. Although the other bonobos could have moved away from his body and traveled anywhere in their very large, heavily forested enclosure, they chose to stay and groom Lipopo’s corpse. When their caretakers arrived to remove the body, the vigil morphed into a tense standoff.
In the video Hare took, Mimi, the group’s alpha female, stands guard over Lipopo’s body. When the caretakers try to push the corpse out of the enclosure with long poles, Mimi fights them, viciously. She grabs the poles with both hands, wrenching them away from Lipopo. She calls to other bonobos, who help her fend off the humans from two sides. Even when the vet arrives with a tranquilizer gun, Mimi stands her ground, her mouth open wide in a scream that’s inaudible in the silent film. Mimi wasn’t related to Lipopo. In fact, she barely knew him, Hare told me. But Mimi was willing to risk an encounter with a gun to protect the body of a mere acquaintance. “That’s why I started to cry,” Hare said. “I don’t know why she did it.”
The results of primate-behavior studies can be humbling for humans because they often call into question our anthropocentric view of the world. Scientists used to say only humans used tools. Then, in 1960, Jane Goodall watched a chimpanzee catch termites using a blade of grass as a lure. A similar watershed moment happened in 1953, when a Japanese macaque named Imo began washing sweet potatoes that scientists gave her. By the 1970s, most of her descendants had learned to do the same. It was a new idea, not shared by all groups of macaques, spread from one monkey to another by social interaction -exactly how scientists define culture.
Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a primatologist at the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University in Japan, says that variations in tool use provide an easy way to see that chimps are capable of sustaining a culture over multiple generations. The chimpanzees that Goodall observed in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania may use grass to fish for termites, but the group Matzusawa studies in Guinea doesn’t. (They can break open nuts with a pair of rocks, though; Goodall’s didn’t.)
Scientists want to better understand how much of this death behavior is cultural and how much is innate -or if it’s even widespread at all -but that will be rather difficult. Observable deaths don’t happen often, and they don’t happen in quite the same way each time. It’s hard to say definitively what Hare saw: Mimi might have been as protective of anything left in her pen, whether dead body or old sandbag.
Further observation might help us identify the substrate beneath human culture. Take the grooming of the dead, for instance. All human cultures address the cleaning of dead bodies in different ways, Hare says, but all of them do something to cleanse corpses. In fact, compared with most other animals, primates share an inordinate concern for cleanliness, even for those no longer with us. Finding out if this is behavior we share with chimps and bonobos, as it appears to be, could cast a new light on our own funerary rituals and even, perhaps, our notions of purity in the afterlife.
Our understanding of how chimps deal with death may remain limited and speculative, but it hints at the need for a new approach to great-ape conservation. As we’re now poised to end a somewhat arbitrary regulatory distinction between wild and captive chimps, it’s worth considering how we’re protecting actually distinct groups of chimps, some of which may have developed their own cultures. When they die off, they take with them behaviors that we might not find anywhere else and that we don’t yet understand -maybe including, somewhat tragically, the extent to which they comprehend their own demise.
Do animals mourn? By Katherine Butler
Evidence shows that humans aren’t the only creatures to grieve the passing of a loved one.
ALONE: A polar bear sleeps in a zoo enclosure. (Photo: i on pajion-photos/Flickr)
Animals can express what seems like a wide range of emotions. A cat angrily protests being served the wrong food. A dog stands dejectedly at the door when left behind. But do members of the animal kingdom outside of Homo sapiens mourn? Evidence shows that not only do animals grieve the loss of a loved one, they express it in many ways.
Animal grief is an issue on the minds of zookeepers at New York’s Central Park Zoo. As the New York Times reports. workers recently euthanizedIda, a popular 25-year-old polar bear who was suffering from liver disease. Now da’s companion of 24 years, polar bear Gus, is alone.
In 1994, Gus swam seemingly endless laps in his enclosure – the result, zoo officials believed, of stress and depression. The swimming ceased only after a therapist worked with the animal. Gus is now being closely observed to see how he reacts toIda’s absence. According to The New York Times,”With sticks, toys and other playthings untouched, he [Gus] spent Monday morning swimming between two rock structures, eyes peering out of the shallow waters as he drifted.” So far, officials from the zoo remain optimistic. Dr. Robert Cook, who helps operate the zoo, told the New York Times, “We haven’t decided what we’re going to do next as far as Gus goes. But he seems to be fine.”
The question remains: do polar bears mourn? Readers weighing in on the question seemed less concerned with the validity of Gus’ emotions and more concerned about how to help him. As Mermaid7seas from Boulder, Colo., wrote,”I wonder if it would have helped Gus processIda’s death if the keepers/veterinarians had allowed Gus to see her body for a few hours, in their usual environment, and allow him to come to the realization that she had died, and then move on, as animals tend to do, naturally.” f Gus is feeling the loss of his mate, he will receive help from his zookeepers . What do other animals experience when they suffer a loss?
Marc Bekoff addresses this question in a blog on Psychology Today called “Grief in animals :It’s arrogant to think we’re the only animals who mourn.” Bekoff,a former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, cites several examples of animals displaying grief in the wild while mourning lost companions. He quotes expert nthia Moss,who tells of an elephant family that tried to rouse a slain member – to the point that one elephant stuffed a trunk-full of grass into her slain companion’s mouth. Bekoff cites Jane Goodall’s observation of Flint, a young chimpanzee who lost the will to live after his mother, Flo, passed away. Flint eventually stopped eating and died near the spot where he lost his mother.
One reader in the United Kingdom wrote to Bekoff about an unnerving explosion of magpie grief that kept him trapped in his barn for an extended period of time. The writer said that 20 magpies emitted loud cackling noises when they discovered their dead comrade. The grief built up until “this was echoed by a similar sympathetic chorus from a nearby wood and within a minute, from all surrounding areas giving the impression that hundreds of magpies were being told of the death and simultaneously expressing their grief.”
Research also supports the idea of animal grief. Karen McComb is an expert on animal communication and cognition at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. As she told Animal Planet,”African elephants are reported not only to exhibit unusual behaviors on encountering the bodies of dead con specifics, becoming highly agitated and investigating them with the trunk and feet, but also to pay considerable attention to the skulls, ivory and associated bones of elephants that are long dead.” Studying the elephants living in Amboseli National Park in Kenya, McComb and her team presented the animals with elephant bones mixed in with other large animals. The elephant bones received the most attention, even though the tusks had been removed from the skulls. However, the elephants were not able to differentiate the skulls of close relatives from other elephant skulls. (One could argue most humans could not do this either.)
Ultimately, it seems that some animals do mourn their dead – but not all animals express such concern for lost companions. As Animal Planet reports, lions have been known to briefly lick or sniff their own species … before eating them.
Elephant Death Ritual
Elephants are the only species of mammals other than Homo sapiens iens and Neanderthals1351 known to have or have had any recognizable ritual around death. They show a keen interest in the bones of their own kind (even unrelated elephants that have died long ago). They are often seen gently investigating the bones with their trunks and feet while remaining very quiet. Sometimes elephants that are completely unrelated to the deceased will still visit their graves..When an elephant is hurt, other elephants (even if they are unrelated) will aid them.
Elephant researcher Martin Meredith recalls an occurrence in his book about a typical elephant death ritual that was witnessed by Anthony Hall-Martin, a South African biologist who had studied elephants in Addo, South Africa, for over eight years. The entire family of a dead matriarch, including her young calf, were all gently touching her body with their trunks, trying to lift her. The elephant herd were all rumbling loudly . The calf was observed to be weeping and made sounds that sounded like a scream, but then the entire herd fell incredibly silent. They then began to throw leaves and dirt over the body and broke off tree branches to cover her. They spent the next two days quietly standing over her body. They sometimes had to leave to get water or food, but they would always return.
Occurrences of elephants behaving this way around human beings are common throughout Africa. On many occasions, they have buried dead or sleeping humans or aided them when they were hurt. Meredith also recalls an event told to him by George Adamson , a Kenyan Game Warden , regarding an old Turkana woman who fell asleep under a tree after losing her way home. When she woke up, there was an elephant standing over her, gently touching her. She kept very still because she was very frightened. As other elephants arrived, they began to scream loudly and buried her under branches. She was found the next morning by the local herdsmen, unharmed.
George Adamson also recalls when he shot a bull elephant from a herd that kept breaking into the government gardens of Northern Kenya. George gave the elephant’s meat to local Turkana tribesmen and then dragged the rest of the carcass half a mile away. That night, the other elephants found the body and took the shoulder blade and leg bone and returned the bones to the exact spot the elephant was killed. Scientists often debate the extent that elephants feel emotion .
GRIEVING RITUALS SHOW ANIMAL COMPASSION
by Sonia Horon on September 5, 2012
(BIRD SCIENCE) Some species of birds have their own way of honoring the dead according to new research. Scientists discovered that when a western scrub jay dies, other jays will gather round the individual and make noise’. The funeral-like behavior also serves as a warning against whatever danger might have killed their friend, and the birds tend to avoid the place for the next 24 hours. And this isn’t only a bird phenomenon. Recently a grief-stricken giraffe refused to leave her dead baby’s side, reminding us that many animals have the capacity to feel the same emotions as humans. Read on to find out more about bird funerals.-Global Animal
The Western Scrub Jay. Photo credit: Wikipedia Discovery News, Jennifer Viegas
Funerals by definition are ceremonies honoring a dead person, but researchers have just observed what appears to be the avian version of a funeral.
The subsequent ceremony isn’ t quiet either.
“Discovery of a dead conspecific elicits vocalizations that are effective at attracting conspecifics, which then also vocalize, thereby resulting in a cacophonous aggregation,” Iglesias and her team wrote. This part of the response is similar to how the birds react when they see a predator, such as a great horned owl.
The researchers explain that “all organisms must contend with the risk of injury or death; many animals reduce this danger by assessing environmental cues to avoid areas of elevated risk.”
The “funerals” therefore serve, at least in part, as a lesson. Since the birds don’ t necessarily know what bumped off their feathered friend, they seem to focus more on the area, associating it temporarily with danger.
The researchers noted that the living birds tended to avoid foraging in the place where they found the deceased bird for a period of at least 24 hours.
Prior research suggests giraffes and elephants might also hold ceremonies for their dead. If so, perhaps there are shared factors with humans and birds. Solidifying group togetherness and social bonding appear to be key benefits, along with learning how to avoid (if possible) whatever did in the deceased.
FUTURE 19 September 2012
Death rituals in the animal kingdom
Jason G. Goldman
We know humans find some form of value in guarding or watching the bodies of the deceased, but in the first article for his new column, Jason Goldman explains how we are beginning to discover that animals may have similar needs.
When a Jewish person dies, according to tradition, a member of a group called the chevra kadisha stays with the body from death until burial, continually reciting passages from the book of Psalms. For those in the Catholic church, friends and family members gather together in the presence of the deceased in a ceremony called a wake. Similarly, when ancient Romans died, relatives immediately gathered around the body, reciting lamentations. The body was kept close, in the atrium of the family home, until the funeral procession began.
These behaviours transcend cultural boundaries. While the details vary from tradition to tradition, the pattern is undeniable: humans seem to find value in guarding or watching the bodies of the deceased for some period of time following death.
But as we are beginning to discover, these behaviours may transcend species boundaries as well.
On 10 October 2003, a researcher watched as a female elephant named Eleanor collapsed (http://www.savetheelephants.org/diary-reader/items/the-death-of-el eanor-401Oth-october-20034 1.html). Her swollen trunk had been dragging on the ground while her ears and legs displayed evidence of another recent fall.
One of her tusks was broken. An elephant named Grace, a member of a different social group, galloped towards Eleanor and tried to heave Eleanor back to her feet with her massive tusks, but Eleanor’s back legs were too weak. The rest of the herd had moved on, but Grace remained with Eleanor at least another hour, until the sun disappeared below the horizon and night fell over Kenya. Eleanor died the following morning at 11 am.
The parade of elephants that followed may – in some deep, fundamental way – be no different from those who gather to pay respects to a dignitary lying in state. Over the course of several days, the carcass was visited by five other elephant groups, including several families that were completely unrelated to Eleanor. The elephants sniffed and poked the body, touching it with their feet and trunks. Even though the carcass had been visited by jackals, hyenas, vultures, and was under the control of lions by the fourth day, the elephants were rarely more than a few hundred metres away during daylight hours.
Since interest in the carcass was not just limited to Eleanor’s relatives, the observing scientists tentatively concluded that elephants had a “generalised response” to the dead. Supporting evidence for his conclusion comes from other studies, both observational (http://african-elephant.org/pachy/pdfs/pachy45. pdf#page=128) and experimental (http:/118.104.22.168/content/2/1/26.short%22%20target=%22 blank). While these behaviours are clearly different from human death rituals, they’re still unique as far as elephant behaviour goes.
But humans and elephants aren’t the only ones to visit the bodies of the recently deceased. On 6 May 2000, a dead female dolphin (http://www.dolphincommunicationproject.org/pdf/Dudzinskietal2003.pdfl was spotted on the seabed, 50 metres from the eastern coast of Mikura Island, near Japan. Two adult males remained with the body at all times, leaving the body only briefly to return to the surface to breathe. As the cause of death was unknown, divers attempted to retrieve the body. However, the presence of the two males prevented a successful retrieval.
Returning the following day in an additional effort to recover the carcass, the researchers found the same two males guarding the female, again making recovery impossible. By the third day, the carcass had disappeared.
Researchers assumed that it had simply drifted into deeper waters.
It’s far from being the only documented instance of dolphin death rituals. On 20 July 2001, a dead sub-adult male was spotted on a nearby seabed, wedged between two large boulders, attended by at least twenty other dolphins, both male and female. As divers attempted to approach and retrieve the body, groups of one to three male dolphins displayed aggressive postures, intercepting the swimmers, though their aggression did not escalate beyond posturing. Like the African elephants, the attending dolphins nudged and pushed at the carcass with their beaks and heads, appearing stressed and agitated. After divers finally retrieved the body, several of the dolphins continued to swim around the boat until it finally left to return to port.
And when a dead dolphin calf (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/i.1748-7692.2007.00107.x/full) was spotted by another group of scientists near the Canary Islands in April 2001, it was also surrounded by several other dolphins, one of whom was presumed to be the mother. By the third day, the calf was floating on the surface, and by the fourth day, the calf was started to show signs of decay. While they did not attempt to recover the body, the researchers noted that whenever even a seabird attempted to approach the floating calf, it would immediately be chased away by the other dolphins.
As this group of dolphins was under continuous human observation, researchers could be reasonably certain that they were acting differently than usual. They travelled slower, remaining in the same general area far longer than was typical. Both of these observations suggested that they were responding specifically to the death of the calf. In each case, the attending dolphins worked together to prevent others from approaching the dead body, sometimes showing signs of aggression to those who tried. In each case, the attending dolphins deviated from their typical routines.
Learning about death
Chimpanzees, on the other hand, maintain their routines. When an infant chimpanzee dies, his or her mother will carry the lifeless body around for days. Sometimes for weeks or months. The mother continues to groom the body, slowing the inevitable decay. She only stops interacting with the corpse when it has decomposed so much that it is no longer recognizable. When a three-month-old female chimpanzee was killed in June fhttp://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/2012/06/29/chimpanzee-infanticide-at-the-la-zoo/) at the LA Zoo (http://lazoo.org/), keepers allowed Gracie to retain her infant’s body for several days, so that she’d be able to carry out this sort of chimpanzee grieving process.
This chimpanzee ritual was described in depth after researchers in Zambia chanced upon a female named Masya who was interacting with the dead body of her four-month-old infant. Writing in the American Journal of Primatology (http://pubman.mpdl.mpg.de/pubman/item/escidoc:582613:14/component/escidoc:673574/Cronin Behaviorai researcher Katherine Cronin speculates: “The behaviours expressed by this female chimpanzee when she first endures physical separation from her dead infant provide valuable insight into… the possible ways in which chimpanzees gather information about the state of responsiveness of individuals around them (hence learning about ‘death’).” Similar practices have been observed among gorillas, baboons. macaques. lemurs fhttp://blogs.scientificamerican.com/primate-diaries/2011/09/29/touchi ng-death/), and geladas fhttp://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/04/what-death-means-to-pri mates/).
Elephants, dolphins, and chimpanzees all have complex social behaviours that we only partly understand. Since it is so rare for humans to observe a natural death in the wild, most of the information that we do have comes from non experimental case studies thanks to quick-thinking researchers. Even still, the available evidence offers an important reminder that humans are not the only animals who respond to death in a particular way. And the list of non-human animals that seem to do so keeps expanding: recent reports suggest that giraffes (http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19317067) and western scrub jays (http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19421217) may mourn as well, each with their own customs.
But we humans like to convince ourselves that we are somehow special, unique among the entire animal kingdom. And in some ways, we are. But for every facet of life that is unique to our species, there are hundreds that are shared with other animals. As important as it is to avoid projecting our own feelings onto animals, we also need to remember that we are, in an inescapable way, animals ourselves.
Is it possible that we’re simply offering post-hoc explanations in an effort to justify behaviours to which we’re naturally driven? The mortician who carefully embalms the recently deceased may have a great deal more in common than he realises with the chimpanzee who painstakingly removes parasites from her dead infant. What bonds us with the chimpanzee in this sense is that we are, in our different ways, simply trying to understand death.