Chimps' awareness to death more complex than previously thought, study says

Scientists discovered that chimps responded to the death of an elderly member of their group in a more complex manner than previously thought.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

When the fifty-something terminally ill chimp named Pansy died, scientists had their cameras ready. They wanted to record how chimps respond to death of a close chimp.

This is the first time the complex reactions of chimps were recorded. In a study published in Current Biology, researchers described how chimps responded when a member of the group died in captivity.

The researchers said in a statement:

"Several phenomena have at one time or another been considered as setting humans apart from other species: reasoning ability, language ability, tool use, cultural variation, and self-awareness, for example, but science has provided strong evidence that the boundaries between us and other species are nowhere near to being as clearly defined as many people used to think," said James Anderson of the University of Stirling in reference to his observations of the safari park chimps.

"The awareness of death is another such psychological phenomenon. The findings we've described, along with other observations of how chimpanzees respond to dead and dying companions, indicate that their awareness of death is probably more highly developed than is often suggested. It may be related to their sense of self-awareness, shown through phenomena such as self-recognition and empathy towards others."

The chimps in Blair Drummond Safari Park mourned the death of an elderly member of their group. When the chimps knew Pansy was in her final days, they groomed her. Pansy's daughter even stayed near her mom's body the night Pansy passed. And the other members responded by being quieter than usual. All of the chimps were clearly affected by the chimp's passing.

The rare footage shows that chimps have developed a high awareness of death. In many ways, they get emotional just as humans do.

Here is rare video footage:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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