Do animals hold funerals too?

Elephant | Studies suggest that animals such as elephants may have death rituals

Two minute read

Humans aren’t the only species to have death rituals. In fact, they happen all across the animal kingdom. Here are five of the most fascinating examples, from mother giraffes to clever crows.

1. Elephants

Not only are elephants among the most intelligent animals, they also appear to have complex death rituals. They’ve been observed covering bodies with leaves and branches and will often investigate bones.

Elephants will also stop to inspect a body that isn’t from their own herd, suggesting a general awareness of death. One family was even filmed mourning a matriarch after her death.

2. Crows

It’s probably no surprise that this highly intelligent member of the corvid family is on the list. Crows have been seen to collect near the body of a dead companion and call out to each other.

But it’s important to remember that responding to death isn’t always the same as mourning. Scientists believe that crows understand the relationship between death and future threats. Gathering near the body helps crows assess what happened and avoid similar dangerous situations.

3. Chimpanzees

Not only do chimpanzees have extremely complex social structures, they also appear to mourn their dead. Chimpanzee mothers will sometimes carry their dead infants with them for months. Scientists aren’t certain what this behaviour means or whether the chimps fully realise the child is dead.

But chimpanzee behaviour after a death can seem distinctly human: they’ve been observed spending time with a dead member of the troop and even tending the body.

4. Dolphins

Animal death rituals certainly aren’t limited to the land and air. Dolphins have been known to spend time with the bodies of their fallen companions. They also use their heads and backs to hold up dead calves for up to thirty minutes before finally letting go.

While scientists aren’t able to definitively label this as grief, dolphins are incredibly intelligent animals with well-developed brain regions for processing emotions.

5. Giraffes

As though anyone needed another reason to like giraffes, these gentle creatures have been observed mourning their dead.

In 2012, zoologists in Zambia watched a mother giraffe spend two hours licking and nudging her dead newborn. They noted that she splayed her legs to get closer to the infant, which is rare behaviour in giraffes. There have also been at least two other instances where giraffes have been seen engaging in similar ways.

Don't miss our other blogs about customs around death and dying from funeral foods from around the world to this collection of incredible coffins.

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