Very little is known about how animals other than ourselves — especially nonhuman primates — react to the deaths of those close to them and whether they “mourn,” as we interpret the feeling.
But recently, researchers at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia, where wild-born chimpanzees that have been rescued from illegal trade live in the largest social groups and enclosures in the world, released never-before-seen video of a chimp community reacting to the death of a nine-year-old male. Additional footage shows a female chimpanzee in the aftermath of the death of her sixteen-month-old infant. After carrying around the baby’s dead body for more than a day, the mother laid it out on the ground in a clearing. She repeatedly returned and held her fingers against the infant’s face and neck for several seconds. After an hour had passed, she took the body over to a group of chimpanzees and watched them investigate. The next day, the mother was no longer observed carrying the infant.
The researchers are careful to say that this is not proof of actual chimpanzee mourning. As one of the lead scientists on the team which took the videos, Dr. Katherine Cronin of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, puts it: “Whether a viewer ultimately decides that the chimpanzees are mourning or simply curious about the corpse is not nearly as important as people taking a moment to consider the possibilities.”
Watch the footage below and decide for yourself.