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3 Animals that Have Funerals to Grieve for the Dead

If you have ever experienced the death of a loved one, then you understand the feeling of grief that falls over you when it happens. The moment when you first hear, and your brain takes a minute– or 20– or a month– or a year– to fully comprehend it. The moment when you realize that that person is gone forever.

We aren’t the only ones: animals feel grief too. This notion will come as no surprise to pet owners and wildlife lovers out there, but many animals will fall silent to mourn or remember the life of one of their own. Animals that have funerals take it one step further and seem to make “rituals” out of their grieving. Call it anthropomorphism if you want, but either way, watching these animals mourn hits close to home.

3. Chimpanzees

Chimpanzees are some of our closest related relatives, so it might not come as a shock that they have similar emotions to our own. But to what extent?

Take the case of Dorothy, an elderly chimp of 30 years who died at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Centre in eastern Cameroon. Workers at the center knew Dorothy was a “prominent figure” in her family of 25 chimps, but they were not prepared for what happened as they took Dorothy to her final resting place.

The family of chimps lined up along the perimeter of the enclosure, watching in quiet contemplation as Dorothy was wheeled past them and buried. They placed their hands on one another’s shoulders, perhaps mourning, perhaps comforting one another, and watched in complete silence, a rare occurrence for these usually loud and boisterous animals.

Monica Szczupider, who took the photo, had this to say: “This is a funeral shot. We were burying Dorothy. We brought her in the wheelbarrow to let the others see.

“It was unbelievably emotional. We were all struck. Even the employees, all of whom grew up as villagers potentially eating apes, before they were a delicacy, were emotional.

“I think every last one of us was silenced by their silence.”

Video is here, but be sure to have some tissues on hand: Chimpanzee Funeral: Warning- May Cause Tears

2. Elephants

If you really knew how smart, sensitive, and creative these animals are you’d be amazed. Honestly, elephants do it all. They live in societies with their own cultures, self-medicate with plants, protect people and other animals in trouble, and PAINT. Paint! Really? …Anyone else a little disheartened that their artistic talent will never match up to an elephant’s?

Elephants have such intense social groups that they become extremely upset when one of their own dies. Of all animal grieving and funeral rituals, there is none as well documented or well known as the elephant’s.

Upon seeing the bones or carcass of another elephant, a family will stop and investigate them, even if the elephant was unrelated to the group. The ritual includes touching the bones gently with their trunks while remaining very quiet, covering the body with leaves and grass, and if the elephant belonged to their own, staying with the body for days or weeks at a time.

Elephant researcher Martin Meredith had this story to tell: ”The entire family of a dead matriarch, including her young calf, were all gently touching her body with their trunks, trying to lift her. The elephant herd were all rumbling loudly. The calf was observed to be weeping and made sounds that sounded like a scream, but then the entire herd fell incredibly silent. They then began to throw leaves and dirt over the body and broke off tree branches to cover her. They spent the next two days quietly standing over her body. They sometimes had to leave to get water or food, but they would always return.”

Elephants are such compassionate animals that they’ll even grieve for and bury their number one killers… us. A news report in Kenya told of an elephant that trampled a human mother and her child and then stopped to bury them before disappearing in the bush.

Fact is, it’s pretty obvious to see that elephants mourn for their dead and would be at least somewhat emotionally compromised when we go around slaughtering entire herds… Take out your “save the elephant” banners.

1. Magpies

These little birds aren’t exactly what we picture in our heads when we think of intelligence, but they’re thought to be some of the most intelligent of all animals, even recognizing themselves in the mirror test (and the only non-mammal to do so).

But their intelligence goes much farther than just self-awareness. Magpies, like other birds such as ravens and chickens,are surprisingly empathetic to others of their kind. Once in a while they’ll be seen engaging in elaborate social rituals that drive scientists and researchers crazy with interest.

Dr. Bekoff of the University of Colorado has studied these rituals and concluded that magpies both “feel grief and hold funerals.” He studied four magpies that took interest in a magpie corpse and recorded their behavior.

“One approached the corpse, gently pecked at it, just as an elephant would nose the carcass of another elephant, and stepped back. Another magpie did the same thing,” he read.

“Next, one of the magpies flew off, brought back some grass and laid it by the corpse. Another magpie did the same. Then all four stood vigil for a few seconds and one by one flew off.”

“We can’t know what they were actually thinking or feeling, but reading their action there’s no reason not to believe these birds were saying a magpie farewell to their friend,” he wrote in the journal Emotion, Space and Society.

Not bad for a bunch of squawking pests in your backyard, hm?