Like elephants, chimpanzees have large brains, live a long time and also live in complex social groups; they have also been observed mourning their dead for prolonged periods of time.
Chimpanzee mothers have been seen holding dead offspring for weeks. In far southeast of Guinea, scientists observed two mothers carrying their dead offspring for many days — 19 in one case and 68 in another — before abandoning them. Dry-season conditions had resulted in the corpses being, in essence, mummified. As New Scientist notes, “in other accounts of corpse-carrying primates, the body has been snatched out of the mother’s hands by rowdy males, or in wet conditions it has disintegrated within days.”
Even more, the mothers treated the corpses with great care as if they were still alive, grooming them, swatting flies away and producing high-pitched sounds when they accidentally dropped the bodies on the ground.
In another case, after the death of Pansy, an elderly chimp in captivity, her daughter stayed beside her through the night and other chimps cleaned the corpse and the place where she had died.
Photo by Derek Keats
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