Scientists have always thought that rituals and emotions associated with loss of a loved one were unique to humans and marked them out from animal kingdom.
But, now two studies have shed new light on the chimpanzees cope with bereavement -- in fact, the animals keep “bedside vigils” and mourn the death of their loved ones with a range of emotions similar to those of humans.
While one showed that relatives of an elderly female chimp, spent hours comforting her as she slipped away and then refused to leave even when she had died, another study showed a mother refusing to accept the death of her baby and holding onto it for weeks after it died before “letting go”, British newspaper ‘The Daily Telegraph’ reported.
James Anderson of the University of Stirling, who led the first study, said: “Several phenomena have at one time or another been considered as setting humans apart from other species -- reasoning ability, language ability, tool use, cultural variation and self-awareness, for example.
“But science has provided strong evidence that the boundaries between us and other species are nowhere near to being as clearly defined as many people used to think.
“The awareness of death is another such psychological phenomenon. The findings we’ve described, along with other observations of how chimpanzees respond to dead and dying companions, indicate that their awareness of death is probably more highly developed than is often suggested.
“In general, we found several similarities between the chimpanzees’ behaviour toward the dying female, and their behaviour after her death, and some reactions of humans when faced with the demise of an elderly group member or relative, even though chimpanzees do not have religious beliefs or rituals surrounding death.”
Dora Biro of Oxford University, who led the second study, observed the mothers in the wild with their young dead babies.
She said: “Our observations confirm the existence of an extremely powerful bond between mothers and their offspring which can persist, remarkably, even after the death of the infant, and they further call for efforts to elucidate the extent to which chimpanzees understand and are affected by the death of a close relative or group-mate.”
The findings have been published in the latest edition of the ‘Current Biology’ journal.