Tuesday, 27 April 2010

How caring chimps mourn the death of a loved one just like humans

Anyone who has peered into the eyes of a chimpanzee knows that our closest relatives in the animal kingdom are intelligent and thoughtful creatures.
And now an extraordinary study has shown just how alike we are.
For the first time, scientists have captured on video a group of captive chimps caring for a dying elderly female, Pansy.


The researchers say the studies show that chimps - who share 98.5 per cent of their DNA with humans - have a 'highly developed' awareness of death.
They even believe the research sheds light on the origins of our own attitudes to dying.
When the keepers realised that Pansy - who was thought to have been in her sixties - was close to death, they gave her painkillers and filmed the group.
As Pansy grew weaker, the three other chimps gently lifted her head and shook her shoulders to see if she was dead.
Some stroked her head and made her comfortable. Others kept her clean and checked her regularly to see if she was still breathing.

Zookeeper Alasdair Gillies, who published an account of the mourning with colleagues from Stirling University, 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.
'They behaved just like a group of human friends would if a friend died.'

Once they discovered she had stopped breathing, the three left the enclosure.
Dr Jim Anderson of Stirling University, a co-author of the paper in Current Biology, said: 'We found it very difficult to avoid seeing parallels between how we know human's respond to losing a close companion or family members, and what the chimps were doing.'

Dr Jim Anderson of Stirling University, a co-author of the paper in Current Biology, said: 'We found it very difficult to avoid seeing parallels between how we know human's respond to losing a close companion or family members, and what the chimps were doing.'
'This is shedding light on the origins of how humans respond to death today.'
A second study shows how chimpanzees cope with a baby's death.
Researchers, led by Dr Dora Biro of Oxford University, watched two mothers carry the bodies of their dead infants with them for weeks - caring and tending for them like real babies.
The researchers believe the mothers - studied in the forests surrounding Bossou, Guinea - used the time to adapt to the death of the infant.
This behaviour shows just how strong the bond is between chimpanzee mothers and their offspring, that it carries on even after death.
The mothers groomed their babies and took them into the nests. Eventually they allowed others in the group to handle them and tolerating longer and longer periods of separation.
After a few weeks they allow other infants and young chimps to carry off and play with the mummified corpses.

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