Responses of chimpanzees to a recently dead community member at Gombe National Park, Tanzania.

1 January 2012 Science News

American journal of primatology | Fiona Stewart et al | 1 January 2012

Chimpanzee responses to the death of a group member have rarely been observed in the wild and most instances involve infant deaths. One of the very few detailed accounts of a group's response to the death of an adult community member is from Gombe National Park, Tanzania, where Teleki [Folia Primatologica 20:81-94, 1973] observed the responses of 16 chimpanzees to an accidental death, none of whom touched the body.

Now, almost 40 years later, we report on the behaviors of 16 (different) Gombe individuals to the recently dead body of an adult female community member. In stark contrast to Teleki's account, we observed individual chimpanzees' responses to range from curious observation and passive investigation (e.g. smelling and grooming) to the shaking, dragging, and frustrated beating of the body. Variation across demographic groups is described and may reflect individuals' past experience with death. The implications of our observations are discussed in the context of core morbidity traits shared between humans and chimpanzees.

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