Chimpanzees 'comfort dying female'
Published 26/04/2010 | 17:17
Dignity in death may be as important to chimpanzees as it is to humans, a study has suggested.
Chimps at a wildlife park in Scotland have been filmed grooming and comforting a dying female member of their group in her final hours.
They also appeared to test for signs of life by checking if the elderly ape was breathing.
After the death there followed a period of "mourning", during which the chimps remained quiet and subdued and avoided the sleeping spot where the death occurred.
The extraordinary scenes were captured on video by staff at the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park in Stirlingshire.
It is the first time anyone has closely observed the behaviour of chimps faced with a natural death.
Previously, sudden traumatic death among adult chimps has been seen to provoke a noisy, frenzied response from group members.
The chimp who died, named Pansy, was one of a group of four at the Scottish wildlife park and thought to be aged in her sixties.
When she became terminally ill in December 2008, staff decided to film the end of her life and its impact on the other chimps. The footage was taken to animal behaviour scientists at the University of Stirling, whose findings were published today in the journal Current Biology.
Alasdair Gillies, head keeper of chimpanzees at the park and co-author of the paper, said: "It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It looked like they were comforting her by grooming her intently."