Gorillas hold ‘wake’ for group’s leader

“After Babs the gorilla died at age 30, keepers at Brookfield (IL) Zoo decided to allow surviving gorillas to mourn the most influential female in their social family. One by one Tuesday, the gorillas filed into the Tropic World building where Babs’ body lay, arms outstretched. Curator Melinda Pruett Jones called it a ‘gorilla wake.’

Babs’ 9-year-old daughter, Bana, was the first to approach the body, followed by Babs’ mother, Alpha, 43. Bana sat down, held Babs’ hand and stroked her mother’s stomach. Then she sat down and laid her head on Babs’ arm.

…Babs had an incurable kidney condition and was euthanized Tuesday. Keepers had recently seen a videotape of a gorilla wake at the Columbus, Ohio, zoo and decided they would do the same for Babs. Gorillas in the wild have been known to pay respects to their dead, keepers said.” (CNN via adam)

Adam, in sending me this poignant story, mentioned other anecdotes he has seen establishing that animals grieve their dead companions. This search (Google ) will be revealing if you want to pursue it further (although, sorry, because of the syntax I used, it includes some items about grieving for departed animals as well as grieving by animals). Some of what I find poignant in this article, however, lies in the anthropocentric attitude it betrays. An earlier version of the article actually had it in the headline; now it was altered (because of such criticism, I wonder??) but it is still the premise of the article that it is acceptable that the zoo keepers decided to allow the gorillas to mourn their loss. I know that in this instance, since Babs was euthanized, they had to deliberately determine to bring the body back into the gorillas’ enclosure for that purpose, but should it really be a matter for our discretion whether the animals we steward are allowed to grieve?


“Monkeys may visualise in response to calls. The primates may actually “see” a predator or food in response to calls from other monkeys, a brain scan study suggests.” (New Scientist )

Although it is not exactly clear that the mental activity detected represents images flashing through the monkeys’ brains, it is suggestive of being a precursor of conceptual representation and thus closer to human thought than many had appreciated. The human ability for empathy for others of our kind is built on our capacity for a ‘theory of mind’; we can conceive of the mental experiences that must go through another’s mind based on our sense of congruence with our own inner experiences, to which we have introspective access. Does this study help us to conceive better of what must be going through a monkey’s mind under certain circumstances, implying that we can begin to have a theory of monkey mind and thus a more empathic connection to our primate cousins than otherwise?