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4 Animals Who Mourn Their Dead

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When a member of their herd dies, elephants often guard the bodies. They become agitated and appear to investigate the dead animal, even touching the bones– the skull and tusks — with their trunks and feet in a ceremonial way (as caught on this video).

A few years ago, scientists from the UK and Kenya observed elephants engaged in such behaviors. They were unable to confirm that the elephants visit the bones of their dead relatives in particular. But, as scientists wrote in the journal Biology Letters, “their interest in the ivory and skulls of their own species means that they would be highly likely to visit the bones of relatives who die within their home range.”

As David Field, head of animal care for London and Whipsnade Zoos in the UK, says in New Scientist:

Elephants are highly intelligent and highly tactile animals. The fact they are able to distinguish between their own skulls and those of other species is not surprising.

Elephants themselves are a matriarchal society filled with aunties and family members who have close bonds within a group.

Therefore, a death in the family “could have an impact on social bonding and structure within the group,” just as it does in human families.

Scientists emphasized that the “notion of elephant graveyards – where old elephants wander off to die – has been exposed as myth by previous studies” and that they are not exactly be “mourning” their dead. But elephants do get excited when they near carcasses as “secretions [stream] from their temples.”

Photo by Xavi Talleda

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674 comments

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5:17PM PST on Feb 15, 2014

intriguing. at least animals dont seem to turn to delusion

4:01PM PST on Dec 27, 2013

ty

8:07AM PST on Dec 22, 2013

fascinating

2:32PM PST on Dec 20, 2013

Many types of birds mourn their dead not just western jays. The great apes mourn their dead and many mammals of all kinds mourn their dead. Life of every kind where ever it exists has mourned their dead and are very much self aware. The only problem is humans underestimating the intelligence of life forms different from themselves and humans thinking and believing their superiority over all other life forms on this planet and elsewhere. Humans claim to fame is being the deadliest predator on the planet and to the planet.

11:22AM PST on Dec 20, 2013

I stopped when I saw 4 pages.

10:06AM PST on Dec 20, 2013

I have watch shows with some animals that mourn the death of theirs it is heart wrenching.

6:26PM PST on Dec 19, 2013

I saw some Indian mynah birds in the middle of a road freaked out by one of their flock being killed. They were all hanging around, in danger of being hit themselves, and obviously very upset. Even though they are an introduced species, and an absolute menace in Australia, it was very distressing to see. One bird was in the middle of the road, absolutely immobile, rigid, staring at the sky - there was traffic everywhere and it was dangerous to go out and take it off the road - and just as I was about to, some PIG of a woman deliberately ran it down. I was so angry - she couldn't have seen from where she was travelling that it was a mynah bird - it could have been a native bird - and I was going to go and haul the bi**h out of her rotten car but the lights changed and she escaped my wrath.

6:35AM PST on Dec 19, 2013

I have seen dogs mourn their companions and mates

5:36AM PST on Dec 19, 2013

Inspiring TY

5:05AM PST on Dec 19, 2013

The hubris of humans. To their astonishment animals feel emotion .. Wow

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