In humans, mourning the death of loved ones helps us come to terms with our loss and move on from it emotionally, but we’re not the only ones that grieve over death. In fact, many animals mourn the loss of family members after they die as well, whether through ritualistic behavior or as an expression of pain or fear.
Here are five animals in Africa that mourn their dead:
Death is simply an absence of an animal that lives only in the present. When something is out of sight, it is out of mind. However, multiple research teams have reported seeing elephants visit their dead on 32 separate occasions. In 2019, an American research team added their own observation at Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve.
They found that elephants show interest in the bodies of their own dead. They approach dead elephant bodies in various stages of decay, from freshly dead to sun-bleached bones scattered across the ground. They carefully examine the body or bones with their highly sensitive trunks and acute small.
Their interactions with these remains resemble some of their interactions with living herd-mates. They may exhibit increased social interactions with other elephants in the vicinity of the carcass, as well as appear subdued or agitated.
There is some evidence that chimps understand death and may even care for the bodies of deceased relatives.
Researchers from the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom observed a group of chimps in Zambia huddled around the corpse of a young male. Surprisingly, the dead chimp’s mother cleaned her son’s teeth with a stiff blade of grass.
Does this imply that the mother chimp had a human-like understanding of death? Not necessarily. She may have had no idea why her son wasn’t moving and was grooming his body as if he were still alive.
It’s possible she saw him as an inanimate object, but chimps have never been observed attending to an inanimate object the way the chimp mother appeared to care for her son’s body. And she’d never groomed him in that manner while he was still alive.
Researchers discovered that mother baboons show interest in the bodies of their own dead by carrying their infant corpses for varying amounts of time, ranging from one hour to ten days, according to a 13-year study on Namibian chacma baboons. During this time, they frequently groom their infant and treat the corpse much differently than they would living infants, even if the infant is sick or lethargic.
Male Baboons, especially the father of the deceased, have also been observed protecting the dead infant and grooming the infant when the mother has temporarily been away from her dead infant.
Gorillas, like humans and other primates, mourn. According to the findings of a group of researchers from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation, and the Universities of California, USA, and Uppsala, Sweden, a troop of gorillas mourn their dead ones by staying near the bodies of a dead gorilla for a number of days. They also stare at the corpses, smell, touch, or even lick them.
It is uncommon to see giraffes mourn, but that does not mean they do not. There have been a few reported cases, one of which occurred in Zambia. A giraffe mother was observed watching over her calf, which appeared to have been stillborn. The giraffe splayed her legs to reach her dead calf, which she licked for a long time. She was seen several times repeating these actions and staying with the calf for over two hours inspecting and examining her lost one. It’s unusual behavior, to begin with, but it’s even more unusual because she allowed herself to become separated from the other females, which is unusual among female giraffes because they prefer to stay close to one another.
So there you have it, it appears that animals know and feel a lot more than we give them credit for.
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