Do animals mourn their dead?

Do animals mourn their dead?

In an important discovery that widens the number of species that react when a relative dies, zoologists found that the mother of a deceased giraffe refused to leave the body of her calf.

While tracking Thornicroft’s giraffes in the South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, Professor Bercovitch witnessed a female giraffe splay her legs and bend down to her newborn, but dead calf, the BBC Nature reported.

She spent several minutes licking the calf, before standing upright. She then repeated the behaviour a few times, spending more than two hours in total investigating the body of her lost offspring.

The behaviour is striking because female giraffes rarely spend any time alone, yet this individual spent hours with her dead calf away from other females. Giraffes rarely splay their legs to bend down, apart from when to drink or feed.

Apart from two other similar incidences, giraffes have not been seen intensively investigating their dead. Other social animals such as elephants and chimpanzees are known to investigate their dead, especially the bodies of their close relatives. Chimps and snub-nosed monkeys have been recorded carrying dead offspring, often carrying older babies for longer. Such behaviour raises the prospect that animals have a “mental model” of death.

Fred Bercovitch studies on behalf of the Primate Research Institute and Wildlife Research Centre at Kyoto University, Japan and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, based in Purley, Surrey, UK.

“The maternal reaction to her dead offspring was not as prolonged as that shown by African elephants,” Bercovitch said.

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