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"Mourning" Chimpanzees
June 25, 2013 3:25 PM   Subscribe

"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."— "Want to Understand Mortality? Look to the Chimps", by Maggie Koerth-Baker in the NYT

More about Pansy:
"Chimps 'Mourned' and 'Comforted' Dying Ape" STV

Do chimps mourn? The most recent work about the issue comes from work done by Katherine Cronin and Edwin van Leeuwen for the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the article, "Behavioral Response of a Chimpanzee Mother Toward Her Dead Infant and from Dora Biro, et. al's article titled "Chimpanzee Mothers at Bossou, Guinea Carry The Mummified Remains of Their Dead Infants

This astonishing video and this one comes from Cronin and van Leeuwen's work.

And this video of a mother chimpanzee in Bossou, Guinea is even more mesmerizing. As is this video of a mother who carried the mummified corpse of her dead child, and an interaction with one of the very young chimps in the group. It comes from the work of Dora Biro, cited above.

Scientific American's "Do Chimpanzees Understand Death?"
Like tool use and self-awareness, distinct grief and mourning might be just one more thing we share with our closest living relatives, by Katherine Harmon 4/27/2010

Wired's "What Death Means to Primates", by Brian Switek 4/18/2011

Animal Planet's Chimps and Death

Robert Sapolsky tackles the question What Separates Us from Chimps?
posted by Toekneesan (17 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nicely done FPP. Thanks for putting it together.

To be honest, these links appear that they may be a bit heart wrenching, I may save them for a time when the soul feels particularly strong.
posted by HuronBob at 4:04 PM on June 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


Katie and Edwin are both part of the Comparative Cognitive Anthropology group which is, indeed, at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics but also at the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology.
posted by knile at 4:17 PM on June 25, 2013


Thanks for the clarification.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:26 PM on June 25, 2013


I understand that these might be difficult, and I hope I presented them clearly, but they also might help one feel that they are not alone, maybe even in a profound way.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:03 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kinda reminds me of the tradition of sitting shiva. That always seemed to be the most natural, cathartic way of dealing with death.
posted by gjc at 5:30 PM on June 25, 2013


She passed in a way most of us would envy

videotaped by Scottish scientists
posted by Greg Nog at 5:52 PM on June 25, 2013 [26 favorites]


It's a damn shame ChuraChura's out in the jungle somewhere.
posted by maryr at 6:05 PM on June 25, 2013


Great post. Maggie Koerth-Baker is an excellent science writer.
posted by homunculus at 8:40 PM on June 25, 2013


I don't mean to be flip, but even a domestic cat will exhibit mourning behaviors. The determination of animal scientists to NOT see emotion in animals and to avoid anthropomorphizing at all costs I think leads to a deliberate blindness to these emotional reactions we can clearly and obviously see in our mamallian cousins. Dogs and cats certainly mourn; it would be more shocking if chimps didn't!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:32 PM on June 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I was thinking something much like Eyebrows McGee. Mourning is mammalian. Certainly I've heard said that some behaviors are the result of mammalian infants requiring mothering. I would think some sort of mourning behavior from a mother would fit that situation.
posted by Goofyy at 1:30 AM on June 26, 2013


I think great caution, along the lines of Morgan's Canon, is justified. When we talk about mourning in human beings we're talking about a range of levels of response: disoriented behaviour patterns around a corpse, emotional affect, intellectual regret and nostalgia to name but three.

To take the lowest level, a dead body provides lots of the same strong behavioural prompts as the living being, but does not provide any of the responses. Even the most brutal of behaviorists would therefore not find it odd that this should lead to unusual and confused behaviour patterns in living animals dealing with a dead one (other than in a prey situation or another where dead bodies are covered by existing instincts). That in itself is not sufficient evidence for a special state in animals that we could justifiably call mourning. If we were seeing ritualised behaviour that seemed to be culturally transmitted and was restricted to scenes of death, we'd have another ballgame altogether.

As it is, we may have charismatic chimps and Greyfriars Bobby, but we also have countervailing evidence from advanced mammals like cats, who reportedly treat their beloved owners as meat as soon as they stop moving.
posted by Segundus at 2:21 AM on June 26, 2013


I think this article might be a little relevant and support the idea that mourning and respect for the dead (or for Death?) is not something 'reserved' for humans.
posted by I have no idea at 3:49 AM on June 26, 2013


Maggie Koerth-Baker is an excellent science writer.

She's pretty good on the boing-boing level. But I don't think she's NYTimes material. Case in point, this article where she mixes correlation with causation on the first two paragraphs. There are other examples.
posted by gertzedek at 4:39 AM on June 26, 2013


Yeesh. It's heartbreaking, watching a chimp carry a dead infant.

We brought our yellow lab in the see the body of our deceased cat. She sniffed it, backed away and then crossed the room to finish his uneaten food.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:14 AM on June 26, 2013


Eyebrows McGee raises a good point.

When an ex-gfrd & I returned from vacation once, we found one of her half-feral outdoor cats - the eldest and dearest - dead under her stairs (visible from the car, and nasally noticeable at that distance, too).

Another half-feral cat made a point of running towards the stairs, by the corpse, and then out through the stairs and away. The only conceivable reason I could imagine for that bizarre path was to ensure that our attention was drawn to the corpse.

Which, BTW, had remained untouched by birds & mice, although the cats couldn't keep the flies off.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:35 PM on June 26, 2013


"That in itself is not sufficient evidence for a special state in animals that we could justifiably call mourning."

Right. But I agree with Eyebrows McGee:

"The determination of animal scientists to NOT see emotion in animals and to avoid anthropomorphizing at all costs I think leads to a deliberate blindness to these emotional reactions...

...but only that far, and not the rest of her sentence:

...we can clearly and obviously see in our mammalian cousins. Dogs and cats certainly mourn; it would be more shocking if chimps didn't!"

Except that I think that insofar as another primate species is socially human-like (and chimpanzees are arguably not quite so like us in many respects relative to some others) the burden of proof rightly should be biased in favor of (limited) anthropomorphization rather than the other way around.

Care should be taken with how culturally variable human mourning is, as well. If you limit "mourning" to being behavioral markers indicating emotional disruption (like depression) at the loss of a close social relationship, then I think that it very unlikely that some/many other animals don't experience this. If you more expansively define "mourning" as all the things that we think about death and loss of a loved one, and including many things that are highly culturally mediated and variable, then it's silly to attribute those things to a non-human.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:33 PM on June 26, 2013


Maggie just posted to BoingBoing about the topic, adding more video and the Pansy paper by James Anderson.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:19 AM on June 27, 2013


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