Friday, February 4, 2011

Touching Death

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by The Prancing Papio:

There is something intensely animal about our relationship with the dead. As an atheist I don’t feel particular reverence or awe at the site of a cadaver. It mostly just creeps me out. But even religious believers, those who should be comfortable with the idea that a dead body retains no trace of the person they once knew, also seem to have trouble letting go of what St. Paul called “confidence in the flesh.” In funerary observances around the world cadavers are regularly touched, kissed, washed, anointed with oils, bedaubed with ceremonial makeup, carted to sacred ground, entombed with their clothes or belongings, and generally treated in death as if their body were going on a different journey than miasmic decay.

However, as is often the case where human universals are concerned, looking to similar behaviors in other animals can be especially instructive. For example, a study that has just been released in the American Journal of Primatology has captured the most complete process to date of what could only be described as mourning behavior in nonhuman primates. Katherine Cronin and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute, Gonzaga University, and the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia have documented a case where a chimpanzee mother faced what for most of us would be an unthinkable horror: the death of her child.

Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in the Primate Diaries in Exile tour.

Cronin, K., van Leeuwen, E., Mulenga, I., & Bodamer, M. (2011). Behavioral response of a chimpanzee mother toward her dead infant American Journal of Primatology DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20927