Monkey news: Scientists examine primate mourning
On December 7th, 2008 Pansy the chimp passed away at the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park in Stirlingshire, Scotland. Video of her death was filmed by park staff and later shown to scientists at the University of Stirling, who studied how the elderly female chimpanzee’s family reacted to her passing. The scientists recently published their findings in the journal Current Biology.
From an article in the Independent:
I decided to let the other chimpanzees in so that they could be together and she could die with dignity. It felt like the right thing to do. What followed was incredible. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It looked like they were comforting her by grooming her intently.
– Alasdair Gillies, head chimpanzee keeper and co-author of paper
Not only did the chimps appear to comfort Pansy, but also exhibited quiet and subdued behavior for several days, which can be interpreted as signs of grief. One male chimp displayed aggressive behavior in the presence of the dead chimp’s body.
From an article in ScienceNews:
These incidents strengthen the inference that apes have some sort of conception of death.
–Chimp researcher William McGrew of the University of Cambridge in England.
From the same article:
Chimpanzees may know something of someone else’s mortality, but we have no way of knowing whether they understand their own mortality.
–Primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta, USA
Observing emotion – and even grief – among the animal kingdom is nothing new, yet the chimps’ grieving has been described as particularly ‘human-like’. But maybe our treatment of death should be more chimp-like. It seems more practical and healthy than the way we simultaneously hide death away, yet constantly dramatize it in every conceivable form of entertainment, eventually culminating in our own elaborate funerals.
Check out this video report on the story from ITV:
by Graham Land