Skip to content

Grieving apes carry their dead infants

  • by
Baboon carrying long dead infant

The picture on this page shows a baboon carrying her long dead infant. It is unsettling but it is also the process of grieving. In this respect apes are very similar to people. Although we don’t know whether primates can understand that all animals including themselves will die one day. A study has been conducted – the most comprehensive of its kind – which sheds light on how primates mourn and grieve. And the results clearly indicate that they gradually come to terms with death like humans.

And carrying an infant around for an average of two days across all species, but for a maximum of 126 days in the case of an individual female chimpanzee, helps with that grieving process.

Baboon carrying long dead infant

Baboon carrying long dead infant. Credit: see photo.

The research is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It studied 50 species of monkey and ape and assessed how more than 400 females responded to the loss of their child. In addition to carrying around dead infants, they found that older females were better able to deal with the death of an infant compared to younger females. They came to understand the finality of death. And so, the scientists also concluded that primates were able to learn about death like humans.

Because older females were better able to deal with the death of an infant, they were less likely to carry their corpses. Across all the species studied 80% exhibited “corpse carrying behaviour”. Monkeys including baboons and macaques and the great apes did it most often. Chimpanzees are the most likely to carry corpses during the grieving process and they are the primates most cognitively similar to humans. Scientists said that “This is good evidence of grief”.

The primates which had diverged from the great ape lineage over a longer period of time such as lemurs did not carry dead infants. The closer the bond between mother and child, the longer the corpse was carried. Also, the corpses of younger primates were carried for longer periods.


Chimps use crushed insects to treat wounds

Chimpanzees treat cuts with the haemolymph inside insects

NEWS AND COMMENT: Researchers have discovered that chimpanzees in Gabon, Africa, treat each other with the fluid inside an unknown ...
Read More
Chimp cracking open nuts using 2 stones

Chimpanzees have the social skills to benefit from cumulative culture

What is cumulative culture? The best ways to describe it is to refer to the way that chimpanzees from Bossou, ...
Read More
Adie and Chita

Woman has love affair with zoo chimp and is banned

NEWS AND COMMENT-ANTWERP, BELGIUM: This is a story which turns on the question as to whether a human can have ...
Read More
Extraordinary photograph of a female ape, Ndakasi, dying embracing her human caregiver Andre Bauma

Extraordinary photograph of dying female mountain gorilla in the arms of her human caregiver

This is Ndakasi with her caretaker and lifelong friend Andre Bauma, a park ranger who cared for her. I don't ...
Read More
Chimpanzee with grass ear decoration

Do non-human animals have culture?

Unquestionably, non-human animals do, indeed, have culture. It is another example of an erosion of the concept of human exceptionalism ...
Read More
Bonobo Marie and her adopted daughter Flora

Animals adopting unrelated animals or animals of another species

We know that humans adopt children through adoption services because their parents are unable to look after their own children ...
Read More