Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis
Grief is not simply a human experience. Recently, a female macaque monkey in an Italian park mourned her dead baby for 25 days after its birth. The monkey was reported to have held the corpse close to herself with her hands and her mouth, and as the body disintegrated, she eventually began eating parts of the mummified flesh. The article states that the researchers could not conclude to what degree the monkey, Evalyne, knew that her baby was in fact dead, but if “Evalyne might have thought that her daughter was still living, the lack of a response to being carried in her mouth ought to have given it away.” It was also unclear as to exactly how cannibalism related to the grieving process for Evalyne.
More parks and zoos are realizing that animals need time to process the death of a loved one, and that removal of “the corpse would have been psychologically traumatic for her. Letting her progressively detach from the body was probably the best solution.” In Inside Animal Hearts and Minds, Recio references the tale of two goats from Barbara King’s How Animals Grieve. “When Blondie died, she was at the vet’s office, so Myrtle had no idea what had happened to her friend. When Blondie didn’t return, Myrtle ran around the farm in a panic, looking for Blondie in all of their favorite places and bleating loudly. After hours of witnessing Myrtle’s anguish, the farmer retrieved Blondie’s body and placed it where Myrtle could see it. Myrtle immediately went over to Blondie and sniffed her body, which finally settled her down.” As we can see, an animal’s experience of grief is unique and particular to its own experience.