Studies Prove Some Animals Mourn Like Humans

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An elephant at the Emmen, Netherlands, zoo stands at the edge of a ditch in 2009, a day after another elephant fell into the ditch and died.

October 07, (NaijaOnPoint Media) – Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed.

A common emotion amongst humans, grief is also apparent in other animals, known as animal grief. In the late 19th century, research started to show grief in chimpanzees and the connection between animal and human grief. However, until recently, grief has never been the focus of research.

Marc Bekoff, a scientist, has spent his time researching emotions in animals, including grief. Combined with other research, the following animals have been seen to grieve: wolves, chimpanzees, magpies, elephants, dolphins, otters, geese, sea lions, and many more.

A question asked is if animals have any emotions? Marc Bekoff defines emotion as something that helps behavioral control and management. It is known that humans have emotions and that it is something fundamental and important in our lives, however it is hard to say if that is true for animals or just some. There are different ways you can tell the emotion of an animal: how they’re acting or how they’re looking at someone or something.

There are different categories of emotions known as primary and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are similar to reflex or something along the lines of fear or fight-or-flight response. Therefore, it is something that animals react to such as loud noises, unknown objects, or odors. Having primary emotions is crucial because reactions to these are important for an animal’s survival. The part of the brain that is responsible for primary emotions is the limbic system.

Secondary emotions are part of an experience. These emotions are taking part in the central cortex of the brain because of the requirement of different and higher brain centers. With secondary emotions it allows one (in this case the animals that do feel grief) to create the connection between feelings and actions.

The experience of losing a loved one is demeaning and leaves you with many questions without answers. It takes ages to forget while some people leave you with unforgettable memories.

This has been observed to be replicated by some animals who grieve like human beings.


Chimpanzee mothers behave like human mothers when their young die. A chimpanzee mother continues to care for her little one after death until she/he decays beyond recognition.

The behaviours expressed by this female chimpanzee when she first endures physical separation from her dead infant provides valuable insight into the possible ways in which chimpanzees gather information about the state of responsiveness of individuals around them (hence learning about ‘death’).


Elephants interact with their dead members in a special but varied way. Several researchers state that these animals are very smart and emotional. Something special about them is that even non-family members show interest whenever there is death.

“What the family was doing was interesting, but what her non-relatives were doing was also important. You see their investigation of the body. You see calves walking past and smelling it. It is amazing to see that level of fascination. Her family was distressed that she wasn’t getting up. But the larger population also was interested in her death.

Elephants have been observed to stand guard over a stillborn baby for days with their head and ears hanging down. Orphan elephants, who have watched their mothers be killed, have been shown to wake up screaming. They are known to communally recognize a deceased relative similar to how they greet a newborn, by collectively touching it’s corpse or old bones and possibly wailing


Besides land animals, creatures of the sea also mourn their associates. Dolphins have been observed guarding their dead on various occasions. Even after their calves have died, dolphin mothers have been seen to save them and grieve when they confirm the death. They also respect human life based on incidents where they help humans facing danger in the waters.


A wolf “sniffed her dead companion, then sat back and gave the most soulful and heart-wrenching howl I’ve ever heard!”; A researcher explained. After a pack member died, the wolves let their tails and heads hang low while walking slowly.


In Giraffes, the mother-infant bond that happens during the neonatal period lasts for a minimum of 12-16 months and there are suggestions that mother and daughters may associate for several years and more. Giraffe’s calves have a high mortality rate (58-73%) in the first year and literature shows mothers adopt a characteristic nurturant behaviour in the event of their calf’s death.

Cases have described behaviours of mothers standing guard over their newborn dead calves, while giraffes rarely remain stationary for long, or of mothers watching quietly from a distance their infant carcasses being fed on by predators.

Baboons, Geladas, Macaques, Gorillas as well as lemurs have also been documented participating in death rituals.

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