- UCL experts review reports of primate mothers reacting to the death of their child
- They found evidence of ‘baby corpse carrying’ in 40 different primate species
- It was the most common and tall among the great apes and Old World monkeys.
- Researchers believe primates are able to learn about death over time
Primate mothers who have died of an infant are saddened to carry a corpse with them – up to months after the tragedy – a study has concluded.
Experts led by University College London (UCL) analyzed data from 409 reports of primate mothers reacting to the death of their young from 50 species.
The study observed ‘baby corpse carrying’ behavior in 80 percent of species – most prominently in great apes and Old World monkeys.
These species are also more likely to carry their dead babies for longer periods.
While scientists debate the extent to which primates are aware of death, the findings suggest that primates are mothers—or at least may learn about it over time.
Primate mothers who have died of an infant are saddened to carry a corpse with them – up to months after the tragedy – a study has concluded. Image: A mother baboon is seen carrying her dead baby with her in Namibia
According to Dr. Carter and his team, their study was limited by relying on uncontrolled reporting of death-related behaviors in primates.
To address this, they have created an online database – ThanatoBase – in which other researchers can submit their own observations.
The team hopes this will provide a more comprehensive look at how non-human primates handle death.
According to the researcher’s analysis, whether primates displayed infant corpse-carrying behavior was strongly determined by the species in question.
Primates such as lemurs that evolved long ago do not take their dead babies with them – and instead express their grief in other ways, such as repeatedly returning to the corpse or calling for their baby.
The team also found that younger mothers were more likely to carry their babies after death – and this behavior was more common in the wake of non-traumatic causes of death, such as illness, than traumatic ones, such as accidents or infanticide.
In the end, it appears that the amount of time mothers take to carry their child is related to the strength of the mother-infant bond.
In particular, infants were carried longer, dying at an early age, with a sharp decline when they reached about half the age.
“Our study indicates that primates may be able to learn about death in a similar way to humans,” said UCL paper author and anthropologist Alessia Carter.
‘It may take experience to understand that death results in a long-lasting “cessation of action”, which is one of the concepts of death that man possesses.
‘What we do not know, and will probably never know, is that primates understand that death is universal – that all animals, including themselves, will die.’
Dr Carter continued, “Our study also has implications for what we know about how grief is processed among non-human primates.”
‘It is known that human mothers who experience a stillbirth and are able to bear their child are less likely to experience severe depression, as they have the opportunity to express their bond. ‘
They concluded, ‘Some primate mothers may also need the same amount of time to deal with their loss, indicating how strong and important maternal bonds are for primates and mammals.
Experts led by University College London (UCL) analyzed data from 409 reports of primate mothers reacting to the death of their young from 50 species. Image: In a previous study, Dr. Carter and his colleagues spent 13 years following and observing a troop of Namibian Chakma baboons, during which they observed 12 cases of mothers carrying their dead babies – including miscarriages and two stillborn babies Contains – an example of which is a picture of
UCL’s paper author and anthropologist Alyssa Fernandez Fuyo said, ‘We show that mothers who are more tightly bound to their infant at death tend to carry the corpse longer, in which emotion probably plays an important role. .
‘However, our study also suggests that, through the experience of death and external cues, primate mothers may have a better awareness of death.’
This, she explained, can lead them to “decide” not to take their dead baby with them, even though they may still experience loss-making feelings.
‘We found that bonding, especially mother-infant bonds, probably make primates respond to death.
‘Because of our shared evolutionary history, human social bonds are in many ways similar to those of non-human primates. Therefore, it is likely that human mortuary practices and grief have their origins in social bonds.
‘The Thanatological’ [death related] Behaviors that we see in non-human primates today may have been present in early human species as well – and they may have transformed into various rituals and practices during human evolution.
‘More data are needed to enable us to further develop our understanding of how intimate behaviors related to death can be explained not only by bonding but also by related emotions and thus, Looks like human misery.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
how animals mourn their death
Various species have been observed to mourn their dead relatives and, in some cases, to behave like humans after the death of a mate.
elephants, for example, have been known to visit and smell dead companions, touch with their trunk, and repeatedly see a member of their group who has died.
This Vervet Monkey, present in a game reserve in South Africa, was seen carrying and grooming with him.