They may look very different from us, but a
wide range of other animals outwardly express grief and react to death,
especially with regard to relatives or longstanding companions, in ways that
are extraordinarily - even, on occasion, eerily - similar to our own responses.
THE SORROW OF FAMILY BEREAVEMENT
It should come as no surprise that our
nearest relatives, the apes and monkeys, experience grief when confronted with
the death of a close relative, but what is startling is just how profound such
sorrow can sometimes be. Dr Jane Goodall recorded one harrowingly moving case
during her classic researches into the behaviour of wild chimpanzees.
In 1972, while Goodall was studying a community
of common chimpanzees Pan troglodytes in Tanzania's Gombe National Park,
its matriarch, an elderly female called Flo, died. Flo had been in the company
of her 8½-year-old son, Flint, who, unlike most adult chimps, had always
remained with his mother rather than becoming independent. Flint initially
appeared bemused by her death, sitting alongside her throughout that first day,
sometimes inspecting her body, grooming her, and even pulling her hand towards
him, hoping that she would groom him in return. When evening came, he
constructed a small nest for himself in a tree. Here he passed the night - the
very first that he had ever spent alone. Although distracted for a time the
next day by his brother's chimp group, it was not long before Flint had
returned to the place where Flo had died, and just sat there, staring. Later,
he climbed a tree to visit a large nest where he and Flo had slept a week
earlier, then he climbed down again, and continued staring.
As the days passed, it was evident that
Flint was sinking ever further into a state of deep depression, showing no
interest in anything or any other chimp in his community, and not eating, just
lying huddled on the ground. His eyes had sunk back into their sockets, and
when he did move it was as if he had prematurely aged, shambling like an old chimp.
Three weeks after Flo's death, Flint returned once more to the place where she
had died, and lay down there, staring out vacantly. Shortly afterwards, he died
- of grief, in Goodall's opinion. And certainly, in view of how very closely
Flint's behaviour had mirrored the grieving of a bereaved human, it would be
difficult indeed to draw any other conclusion.
Japanese macaque (©
Similarly, while television wildlife
producer George Page was filming a group of Japanese macaques Macaca fuscata
for a TV documentary, one of the macaques gave birth to a stillborn infant.
Instead of abandoning it, however, its mother carried its body everywhere with
her. And each night, after climbing one specific tree with it in her arms, she
would give voice to a series of heart-rending screams. Not until three full
days and nights of what can only be described as mourning had passed did she
finally place her baby's body on the ground and leave it.
Grief and mourning are not confined to
primates either. While studying baboons in Kenya, Michigan University
behaviourist Dr Barbara Smuts once witnessed four baboons chasing an infant
impala Aepyceros melampus. Despite its mother's attempts to protect it,
one of the baboons succeeded in seizing the baby antelope, killing it, and
eating it in front of its mother. After the baboons left, she remained there,
staring down motionless at her calf's devoured remains. And when Smuts
revisited the site several hours later, the female impala was still there, and
was still gazing fixedly at her dead calf. Moreover, exactly the same scene met
Smuts's eyes when she returned there the next morning. It was as if the mother
impala had been turned to stone, or had been physically rooted to the spot
where her offspring had been so brutally killed. Later that day, she finally
departed, but - whether through shock, genuine grief, or both - for over a day
she had ignored the world and all of its dangers that she would normally have
been so intent upon monitoring, to pay silent homage to her dead calf.
Even birds, especially species that mate
for life, exhibit unmistakable signs of grief when their partner dies, as
revealed by eminent animal behaviourist Prof. Konrad Lorenz:
"A greylag goose that has
lost its partner shows all the symptoms that John Bowlby has described in young
human children in his famous book Infant Grief. The eyes sink deep into
their sockets, and the individual has an overall drooping experience, literally
letting the head hang."
Indeed, with swans it is not unknown, if
one member of a longstanding pair should die, for the surviving member to stop
eating and die within a short time afterwards.
GRIEVING FOR DEPARTED FRIENDS
The grief experienced by pet dogs, cats,
and other higher species following their owner's death is often plain for all
to see. Moreover, emotional responses have also been documented with animals
confronted by the death of an unrelated but familiar animal companion.
In the 1960s, animal rescuers Ken and Mary
Jones of Cornwall received a young seal for care, one of many coated with oil
spilling forth at that time from the beached oil tanker Torrey Canyon.
Naming him Simon, they nursed him back to health at their wildlife sanctuary,
and while he was there they received another young seal, this time a female,
dubbed Sally, who had been blinded by the oil. Simon and Sally soon became firm
friends, and Simon patiently acted as Sally's eyes. Sadly, however, a year
later Simon fell ill, and despite the Jones' best efforts to save him, he died.
Sally was very distraught at the loss of Simon, lying next to his body and
refusing to move from the spot, even after his body had been taken away. Sally
rejected all enticements by the Joneses to eat, and in under a week she too had
died - not from physical illness, however, but wholly from grief.
Icelandic pony (© Dr Karl
The same tragic fate almost befell an
elderly female donkey named Julie. As recalled by zoologist Dr Maurice Burton
in Just Like an Animal (1978), Julie had spent many years in the company
of Leonardo, an old Icelandic pony. Finally, however, the day arrived when
Leonardo was so ill that the only option for his owners was to have him put to
sleep. So Julie was taken into a field some distance away from the shed where
she and Leonardo lived together, while Leonardo was euthanased in the shed.
When his body had been removed, Julie was released, but despite her own advanced
years she galloped straight across the field to the shed where she had last
seen Leonardo. After standing inside for a short time, looking down at the spot
where he had been lying, Julie came out of the shed again, raised her muzzle
skywards, and gave voice to an unearthly, agonised scream, unlike anything
normally emitted by donkeys. After that, she stopped eating, and seemed
destined to join Leonardo in death before long - until fate intervened, in the
form of a Shetland pony, introduced as a companion on the suggestion of one of
her owners' friends. Julie and the pony became good friends, her appetite
returned, and several years later the two could still be seen together.
MAYBE AN ELEPHANT NEVER DOES FORGET
No less moving is the reverent loyalty and
apparent recognition shown by elephants to the mortal remains of other
elephants, especially dead relatives, while totally ignoring the bones of other
animals. Amboseli-based elephant researcher Cynthia Moss has revealed that an
elephant herd will make a considerable detour from their normal route to
investigate unearthed elephant skeletons, and will gently run their trunks
along the contours of these bones (particularly the skulls and tusks), fondle
them, smell them, and even carry them away for quite a distance before finally
dropping them again. One seven-year-old elephant in a herd came upon the jaw of
his dead mother, brought by Moss into the research camp at Amboseli in the hope
of uncovering its age. Long after the others in his herd had moved on, this
elephant remained there, touching and turning over his mother's jaw with his
trunk and feet. Did he recognise it as his mother's, from its shape or even its
scent, perhaps? And if so, what were the thoughts passing through his mind?
DO ANIMALS CRY EMOTIONAL TEARS?
Elephants that have been separated from
relatives weep copious tears from their temporal glands when reunited.
Moreover, these sizeable mammals weep 'true' tears too, i.e. secreted from
their lachrymal glands. Such tears are normally for lubrication purposes - but
they are also allegedly wept at times of grief or fear. Young elephants
orphaned when their mothers were killed by poachers for their tusks are known
to wake screaming in the night, their eyes full of tears. And in their
compelling book When Elephants Weep (1994), animal behaviourists Dr
Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy include several reports of captive elephants
seen weeping when ill-treated by their human masters.
When Elephants Weep (© Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy/Random House)
Equally, when researching for their book
Crying, the Mystery of Tears (1985), Minnesota-based biochemist Dr William
Frey and Muriel Langseth received many letters from dog owners claiming that
their pets had wept emotional tears. Among the more thought-provoking examples
are: an Irish setter that cried when the family cat died; a Boston terrier that
hid under the table and sobbed tears whenever his owner scolded him; several
reports of weeping Mexican hairless dogs (this breed is apparently famous among
devotees for crying if upset); and, most compelling of all, a pomeranian who,
when confined in the bathroom by his owner's mother while looking after him,
lay on the floor "...with his head resting on his paws and big tears were
rolling down his face. His whole body was shaking as he sobbed; the sounds were
coming from deep within".
ARE ANIMAL FUNERALS AND BURIALS MORE THAN A
Traditional folklore throughout the world
tells of animals attending funerals for members of their own kind, and also
burying their dead. However, some wildlife observers claim that such events
sometimes occur in real life too. Elephants are well known for standing around
a dead member of their herd in solemn, almost ritualistic manner, noticeably
with their heads pointing away from the body, and adult females have sometimes
been witnessed placing leaves or branches over the body of a dead calf.
Badgers are said to bury their dead, and
naturalist Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald reported how an adult female European badger Meles
meles, after emitting a macabre scream at her sett's entrance, had been
seen to dig a large hole nearby and then, assisted by an adult male badger,
proceed to pull the dead body of another male out of her sett, deposit it in
the freshly-dug hole, and cover it with soil, after which the two went off on
their separate ways. Sceptics suggest that badgers are merely caching corpses
to be eaten later. In February 1996, however, a Daily Telegraph reader
from Guildford reported discovering the dead body of one of his pet rabbits
inside a tunnel that had been specifically closed-off by his other rabbits
within the tunnel system in which they all lived. Yet rabbits don't eat each
European badger (©
Most bizarre of all are the various reports
on file of alleged bee mourners. These are honeybee swarms that have
mysteriously appeared at the funeral of their beekeeper. A recent case featured
Shropshire beekeeper Margaret Bell, who died in June 1994. Although she lived
in Ludlow, Mrs Bell kept her bees 11 km away in Leintwardine. Nevertheless,
shortly after her funeral in Ludlow, a huge swarm of bees suddenly appeared and
settled on the corner of the street directly opposite her house, staying there
for roughly an hour before flying away again. Just an odd coincidence, or were
these insects truly Mrs Bell's bees that had somehow found their way from
Leintwardine to pay their last respects to their keeper?