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It’s a universal fact that every living thing dies but did you know that we aren’t the only ones who practice funeral rituals? There has been a few documented cases of animals mourning and engaging in mortuary-like activities after a loss. But, more recently a death of a chimpanzee in Zambia may indicate that humans aren’t all that different after all.
Noel, a female chimpanzee at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust was visibly mourning the death of her 9-year-old adopted son, Thomas after he likely died from a viral and bacterial lung infection.
She initially surrounded the body for about 20 minutes then began to engage in a cleansing ritual. Despite attempts to distract her with food, she continued to clean her son’s teeth with some grass.
According to Dr. Edwin van Leeuwen, lead author of a study, published in the journal Scientific Reports about corpse cleaning in chimpanzees, “Noel approached Thomas’s body, sat down close to his head, turned her upper body sideways to select a hard piece of grass, put the grass in her mouth, and opened Thomas’ mouth with both of her hands.Then she wrapped her fingers around Thomas’s chin and jaw, and used her thumbs to explore his teeth. After three seconds, she took the grass out of her mouth with her right hand…and started to meticulously poke the grass in the same dental area as where her thumbs had been.”
This type of post-mortem care has never been reported in animals but Dr. Leeuwen thinks this important observation tells that humans aren’t the only ones who care about the dead. He says, “Chimpanzees may form long-lasting social bonds and like humans, may handle corpses in a socially meaningful way.”
Watch the video from National Geographic and see this amazing ritual for yourself:
What do you think about this new discovery?