How Chimps Mourn Their Dead: Reactions to Death Caught on Film

By Smriti Rao | April 26, 2010 4:43 pm

Do chimpanzees truly understand the concept of death–and do they grieve for their dead? Two separate studies due to be published in journal Current Biology suggest that chimps may have emotional responses to death that aren’t so different from humans’ reactions.

In the first study, researchers observed an ailing female chimp in a Scottish zoo. The elderly chimp, called Pansy, was believed to be more than 50 years old. As Pansy’s health began to falter, other chimps, including Pansy’s daughter, began to exhibit signs of concern that seemed remarkably human. They groomed Pansy more often than usual as she became lethargic, and after her death, her daughter stayed near the body for an entire night, even though she had never slept on that platform before. All of the group were subdued for several days afterwards, and avoided the place where she had died, spending long hours grooming each other [BBC].

In the second study, scientists working in the forests of Guinea observed two chimp mothers carrying around the bodies of their dead infants for weeks after their deaths. One chimp carried her dead baby around for more than 60 days, an unusually long period, according to the scientists. During the period, the babies’ bodies slowly mummified as they dried out. The bereaved mothers used tools to fend off flies [BBC].

For an in-depth examination of what these two studies reveal about our closest ancestor’s understanding of death and mortality, read Ed Yong’s post in the DISCOVER blog “Not Exactly Rocket Science.”

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Chimps Show Altruistic Streak
DISCOVER: The Discover Interview: Jane Goodall
DISCOVER: Chimps Plan Ahead. (Plan #1: Throw Rocks at Humans.)
80beats: Chimps Don’t Run From Fire—They Dance With It
80beats: Chimps Catch Contagious Yawns From Cartoons
80beats: Scientists Tickle Apes & Conclude Laughter Is at Least 10 Million Years Old

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • Ryan

    The second example seems pretty different from how humans deal with their dead and suggests that those chimps were unable to recognize death when they saw it.

  • person

    The video just looks like they got bored with the dead body, and went away.

  • http://www.Dan-Barrett.com Yumfy

    The first thing that always goes through my head when seeing a headline like this is this: If you even have to ask this question, means that you have spent almost NO time around animals. Having grown up on a farm, I can tell you that animals MUCH less evolved than chimps morn and have emotions just like us. I have morned right beside the mother of several species who have just lost a child. There was no doubt WHAT-SO-EVER what those mothers were experiencing. If you have ever spent time around animals, questions like this just seem silly.

  • AK

    At the very least Rhesus monkey which is very common in Asia also behaves similarly. Mothers keep carrying the dead young around till they start drying and falling apart.

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    Hi my friend! I want to say that this post is awesome, nice written and include approximately all important infos. I’d like to see more posts like this .

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