MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Do primates bury their dead?

Date: Fri Dec 11 13:05:41 1998
Posted By: Andrea Bixler, staff (postdoctoral associate), biology, UM-St. Louis
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 910111877.Zo

No, there is no evidence to suggest that primates bury their dead, or that they show any sort of special behavior, such as burial rites, when a member of their group dies. However, they often show a variety of interesting behaviors which suggest that they don't "understand" the individual is dead. Jane Goodall described two such instances from her work with chimpanzees.

In one case, an older sister tried to groom and play with her infant brother for a day or two after he had died, and the mother of these two carried the dead infant with her everywhere she went for several days. In another case, a young adult male whose mother had died remained with her body for several days, even though other family members tried to coax him away.

These behaviors may seem gruesome, but I think they are very interesting, especially because we don't really understand them. Are these animals just so dumb that they don't know any better? [This seems unlikely, since they show remarkable intelligence in other ways (e.g., communicating via sign language or solving complicated puzzles for a reward of bananas).] Do they have the same type of emotional attachment to their family members as humans do, but lack the traditions of funeral/wake/shiva and instead just carry the body around until it becomes inconvenient? Or is the answer somewhere inbetween, such that, for example, they know something's wrong (they are confused by the lack of responsiveness of the dead individual), but have no understanding of what it is or what to do, and so carry on as if everything were OK.

Current Queue | Current Queue for Zoology | Zoology archives

Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Zoology.

MadSci Home | Information | Search | Random Knowledge Generator | MadSci Archives | Mad Library | MAD Labs | MAD FAQs | Ask a ? | Join Us! | Help Support MadSci

MadSci Network,
© 1995-1998. All rights reserved.