Some primates can mourn dead infants by carrying their corpses with them, sometimes for months, according to a study examining mothers’ reactions to death among 50 primate species.
The study, published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, found “infant cadaver carrier” behavior in many species of primates, including gorillas, chimpanzees, macaques and baboons.
While non-human primates respond to death in several ways, the transport of infant corpses is among the most commonly reported, according to the study.
Scientists have not been able to determine a clear explanation for the behavior, “especially since it is expensive and does not provide them with any benefit,” according to the website of study co-author Elisa. Fernández Fueyo.
Researchers at University College London have compiled a database of 509 cases among 50 primate species of maternal responses to infant deaths. About 80% of the species studied had infant carcass carrying behavior.
The study found that three factors influenced whether a mother would carry her dead baby. The transport of infant corpses was more frequent when the infant’s death was non-traumatic, from illness or stillbirth, than if it was traumatic, from a predator attack or an attack. accident. The baby’s age at the time of death is also a factor, with mothers carrying younger babies for longer.
Young mothers were also more likely to carry the dead baby, according to the study. Researchers say older primates may have already learned when to recognize if their baby is dead and thus may be better able to sever their bond with the baby, suggesting primates are able to become aware of death over time. time.
“Although there is debate among scientists as to whether primates are aware of death, this new study suggests that primate mothers may have a conscience – or be able to learn more about death over time. time, “according to a statement released Wednesday by University College London.
“Our study indicates that primates may be able to learn about death in the same way humans do: it may take some experience to understand that death results in long-lasting ‘cessation of function’, which is one of the concepts of death that humans have, ”study co-author Alecia Carter said in the statement. “What we don’t know, and may never know, is whether primates can understand that death is universal, that all animals – including themselves – will die.”
The study adds to existing knowledge about how non-human primates deal with grief and shows “how strong and important maternal bonds are to primates,” Carter said.
Despite the results, Fueyo said more research is needed to determine how primate behaviors resemble human grief.
“We found that the bonds, especially the mother-child bond, may be causing the primates’ reactions to death,” Fueyo said. “Due to our common evolutionary history, human social bonds are similar in many ways to those of non-human primates.”
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