The Primate Diaries

Chimpanzees Mourn the Death of Their Own Kind

At the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, chimpanzees form a gallery of grief, looking on as Dorothy–a beloved female felled in her late 40s by heart failure–is borne to her burial.

Image: National Geographic / Monica Szczupider

The Prancing Papio has brought attention to this powerful photograph presented by National Geographic showing chimpanzees focused on the body of a recently deceased member of their community. I still remember the powerful effect it had on me when I saw Jane Goodall’s The People of the Forest which showed how one young male, who was fully capable of taking care of himself, was so distraught by his mother’s death that he refused to leave his nest for days and eventually died. It was a clear example of the power that mourning had over our evolutionary cousins.

As The Daily Mail reported about the photograph:

Until recently, describing scenes such as this in terms of human emotions such as “grief” would have been dismissed by scientists as naive anthropomorphising. But a growing body of evidence has suggested that “higher” emotions – such as grieving for a loved one and even a deep understanding of what death is – may not just be the preserve of our species.

Chimpanzees – as revealed in November’s National Geographic magazine – and closely related bonobos maintain hugely complex social networks, largely held together by sex and grooming. They have often been observed apparently grieving for lost family and tribe members by entering a period of quiet mourning, showing subdued emotions and behaviour.


  1. #1 Vince Whirlwind
    October 29, 2009

    Maybe Nat Geo hid a banana under the dead chimp, and *that*’s what gave them their shot?

  2. #2 john gathly
    October 30, 2009


    You sir, are a street rat.

  3. #3 blue girl
    October 30, 2009

    animals have feelings to. what a shame sooooo many people in this world will never know the love of an animal. their loss.

  4. #4 Gopal
    October 31, 2009

    I expect the chimpanzee group was given an oppurtunity to mourn the death of their friend in their own way? I wonder how they expressed it.

  5. #5 Sid
    November 1, 2009

    I agree with you sir, but at the same time feel sorry for the rats.

  6. #6 Merlin DuVall
    November 1, 2009

    The emotional attachment in humans is no more linear than in lower primates; the closer psychologically that two primates, or humanoids, are the more they will grieve. In the photograph of Dorothy, the interest may have been accentuated by the attention the human is giving to her dead body. Good work, it inspires people to think, their comments are like icebergs, a tiny view of the way the contributor views their world.

  7. #7 Ernesto
    November 1, 2009


    People like you sir, need to learn from this animals,I feel sorry for you.

  8. #8 Rebecca Sherman
    November 4, 2009

    What a powerful photograph. The image says it all. Thank you for posting.

  9. #9 Skeptigirl
    November 6, 2009

    Maybe Nat Geo hid a banana under the dead chimp, and *that*’s what gave them their shot? – Posted by: Vince Whirlwind

    Maybe you are nuts.

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