Pansy the Chimp Dies, and Fellow Chimps Grieve?

Pansy at play with friend and daughter

After friends and family expressed their sadness with a moment of silence, people started to wonder if the chimps were actually affected by the death of their dear friend, Pansy. It’s stories like this – and others – that have attracted the attention of scientists, who now speculate on whether or not chimpanzees are capable of knowing that death means that they are never coming back. According to two newly published studies found in Current Biology, that seems to be the case.

They may be more thoughtful than we think

James Anderson of the University of Stirling in Scotland admits that chimps may have a greater awareness of death than was previously believed. Pansy’s demise provided the first chance to observe a chip’s response to a friend’s natural death. Scientists – via two video cameras within the chimp enclosure – witnessed how three adults started grooming her days before her final moments. Her breathing became labored, and within the last ten minutes of her life, the grooming increased, until a single male jumped onto the platform where the dead chimp lay, and pounded on the body before charging off in an aggressive manor.

The following day, the three same individuals (including Pansy’s daughter) watched in silence as the zoo keepers removed the corpse. Nobody slept on Pansy’s deathbed for five days; survivors ate less and were abnormally inactive throughout the following weeks.

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