Chimps grieve when faced with death

Michael McCarthy,Environment Editor
Tuesday 27 April 2010 00:00 BST

Chimpanzees grieve as humans do, an incident at a Scottish wildlife park suggests. Chimps were filmed grooming and comforting a dying female in her final hours and appeared to test for signs of life by checking if she was breathing.

After the death of the animal, at the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park, there followed a period of "mourning", during which the other chimpanzees were subdued and avoided the spot where the death occurred.

The extraordinary scenes were captured on video by staff at the park in Stirlingshire and the footage was taken to scientists at the University of Stirling, whose findings were published yesterday in the journal Current Biology.

The chimp who died, named Pansy, was one of a group of four at the park and was thought to be in her 60s. When she became terminally ill, staff decided to film the end of her life and its impact on the others.

Alasdair Gillies, the park's head keeper of chimpanzees and co-author of the paper, said: "On the day she died she crawled across into her daughter's nest, which was an incredible feat considering she was close to death.

"I decided to let the other chimpanzees in so that they could be together and she could die with dignity. It felt like the right thing to do. What followed was incredible. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It looked like they were comforting her by grooming her intently."

Two of the chimpanzees bent down to Pansy's mouth and appeared to be testing for signs of life. After her death, the other chimps left her side, but her adult daughter returned and remained by her mother all night.

"For weeks afterwards it was uncannily quiet in the enclosure and the chimpanzees' appetites diminished. They were clearly grieving," added Mr Gillies.

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