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ScienceDaily: “Do Chimpanzees Mourn Their Dead Infants?” Last May we covered research that suggested chimpanzees “provide special attention to loved ones before they die and grieve afterward,” which unsurprisingly prompted comparisons to human behavior.
New research follows up on the same topic, documenting how a chimpanzee mother in Zambia’s Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust responded to the death of her infant. Mother chimpanzees develop close bonds with their offspring, carrying them for most of the first two years of their lives, and consequently researchers know a good deal about their normal interaction.
In this case, scientists from the trust, the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, and Gonzaga University observed a mother chimpanzee whose infant had died. After carrying the body around for more than a day, the mother placed the infant on the ground and repeatedly held her fingers against the infant’s face and neck for several seconds. Eventually she carried the body to another group of chimpanzees who “investigated” the body. The following day the mother had apparently abandoned the infant’s body.
The researchers believe this was a “unique transitional period as the mother learned about the death of her infant,” with the institute’s Katherine Cronin explaining, “Whether a viewer ultimately decides that the chimpanzee is mourning, or simply curious about the corpse, is not nearly as important as people taking a moment to consider the possibilities . . . [of] the extent to which nonhuman primate understand death, and how they respond to it.”
Accepting evolution—and therefore the idea that death is simply a condition we’ve evolved to respond to—should make one far more likely to identify this chimpanzee behavior as “proto-mourning.”
We must disagree slightly, as “considering the possibilities” is inherently a more subjective and worldview-influenced act than a simple ethological observation. Is a chimpanzee “grieving” akin to human behavior? Or is this mother chimpanzee’s behavior not so unlike that of other non-human mammals? Accepting evolution—and therefore the idea that death is simply a condition we’ve evolved to respond to—should make one far more likely to identify this chimpanzee behavior as “proto-mourning.” By contrast, the Bible informs us that physical death is an intruder into God’s once-perfect creation, and therefore an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26) that will one day be removed when Jesus Christ returns (Revelation 21:3–5). It also tells us how we can escape eternal death in hell and have eternal life with God (John 3:16).
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