Have you ever wondered, “Do animals grieve death?” Sometimes animals seem to have senses that are rather human like. With pets, when we have been experiencing the grieving process, the critters desire more lap time and petting. Or, perhaps it is that this brings comfort to us. More than likely grief is mutual between animals and humans.
Grieving of Elephants
Several kinds of animals have particularly obvious signs of grieving. Elephants in particular display signs of grieving their fellow beasts. Here is a film of Echo, one of the most studied elephants of all time. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/echo-an-elephant-to-remember-introduction/5755/
Some of the grieving behaviors of elephants include frequenting the place of death or silently standing there for a bit. When the remains are present, they will touch, smell and caress the bones with their trunk. Elephants have been observed tearing and dropping clumps of grass over the body. Following the death of her calf, a mother elephant lags behind the herd for a time. As a mother who has lost a child, I certainly understand.
A number of years ago, my husband raised cattle. The cows would gather around a bovine that was in the process of dying. Following their passing, the herd would eventually scatter.
Do Chimps Grieve Death?
My very most touching example involves Washoe, a chimp who was taught sign language. She knew approximately 350 signs for words and was able to communicate in short sentences. This chimp had lost two babies herself, becoming depressed afterwards. Washoe later became attached to a pregnant volunteer named Kat. When Kat came by, Washoe would excitedly point at her belly and sign, “Baby!”. There came a day when Kat wasn’t able to be there for a while.
When Kat finally returned to see Washoe, the chimp gave her the cold shoulder. Kat apologized to her and signed, “My baby died.” Initially, Washoe gazed down, then she caught Kat’s eye and signed the word, “cry” and traced the path from her eye where a tear would drop. (Interestingly, chimps, themselves cannot cry.) Later that day when Kat prepared to leave, Washoe signed, “Please person hug”!
Here is the fascinating story of Washoe teaching sign language to other chimps. I especially love the part at the end highlighting an orangutan as well as the insight from Dr. Jane Goodall! https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1985/05/29/chimpanzees-teach-sign-language/b8cdb502-9d2c-4a2a-9fd9-0732c0fe2024/
It seems the more I’ve learned about the animal kingdom, the more I am amazed at their behaviors. Sometimes they seem very human like. Their behaviors certainly show animals do grieve death.