Animal wakes and funerals

Charles 2 Comments

Posted by Vale

When Dorothy the chimp died at the sanctuary in the Cameroons, other members of her troop looked on as she was buried, comforting each other with touches and caresses.

Animals don’t just grieve; new studies suggest  that they might mark a passing too. Mark Bekoff of Colorado University has written that:

I once happened upon what seemed to be a magpie funeral service. A magpie had been hit by a car. Four of his flock mates stood around him silently and pecked gently at his body. One, then another, flew off and brought back pine needles and twigs and laid them by his body. They all stood vigil for a time, nodded their heads, and flew off. I also watched a red fox bury her mate after a cougar had killed him. She gently laid dirt and twigs over his body, stopped, looked to make sure he was all covered, patted down the dirt and twigs with her forepaws, stood silently for a moment, then trotted off, tail down and ears laid back against her head.

In another study reported on the BBC Nature website, when Western Scrub Jays:

‘spied a dead bird, they started making alarm calls, warning others long distances away.

The jays then gathered around the dead body, forming large cacophonous aggregations. The calls they made, known as “zeeps”, “scolds” and “zeep-scolds”, encouraged new jays to attend to the dead.

The jays also stopped foraging for food, a change in behaviour that lasted for over a day…

The results suggest that “without witnessing the struggle and manner of death”, the researchers write, the jays see the presence of a dead bird as information to be publicly shared, just as they do the presence of a predator.’

The reason suggested for the birds’ behaviour is that by broadcasting and marking the death, the flock is alerted to danger. Sounds fair, but the fasting as well?

The more you search the more you find. It isn’t safe or sensible for us to imagine that on this multitudinous planet we are alone in our feelings of grief or gladness, or in what seems to be a common need to mark a passing.


  1. Charles

    Those elephants – so gently turning over the bones and picking them up, cradling them in their trunks – I can imagine we could be like that if we weren’t so distanced from death and dying. In parts of rural Greece families mourn at the above ground tombs for 2 years, and then when the bones are dry they are removed and carefully wrapped and placed in the local charnel house. In Japan there is the ‘bone picking’ ceremony following cremation, which I rather like. I can imagine feeling close to the bones of my ancestors – ‘alas poor Yorick’ and all that. They are somehow a tangible part of the person and to be cherished

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>