Not long ago my wife, Trudy, and I returned from an Kenyan safari. The trip was wonderful in so many ways, and one of the many amazing stories was how elephants mourn. When an elephant dies, the rest of the herd stands around the body for up to three days without eating or drinking. They then push over trees to cover the body of the deceased elephant, in effect performing a burial. Even years later when returning to the site they stop and stand silently, as if remembering their fallen family member.
I found this story engaging. It made me wonder if elephants engage in the same emotions of mourning as do humans. These elephant behaviors look like they are mourning the deceased.
Then a couple of days I saw something in my herd of cattle that called me up short. Tragically a calf of about a month of age died. I found it dead without obvious cause. The mother had wandered off by then to feed with the herd.
When I rolled the dead animal over, inspecting it for signs of predators or other hints as to why it had died, I was surprised to look up and see the mother trundling hurriedly for where I stood. The mama cow maintained her protective instinct for her deceased calf, and I felt sure she would have defended the carcass. Needless to say, I quickly took my leave.
Admittedly, protectiveness of the calf’s body is different from mourning but still projects an awareness of concern and affection for the deceased calf. Watching mother cows cleanse, feed, and protect their calves has convinced me that these mothers feel strong emotions for their offspring. Even the bull on occasion ends up calf-sitting and demonstrates surprising patience and protective instincts for his offspring.
I have believed for years that human psychology could be better informed if we better understand the behavior of other mammals, especially those closest to us on the evolutionary scale.
Would love to hear your thoughts. Do you think animals mourn? Do your pets show emotions?
Tagged: Mourning in animals
My father had a way with animals. He had a very special dog named Lassie, no kidding. Our family history is replete with fascinating stories of my father and this wonderful animal. On Sunday afternoons my father would walk the fields on our farm to view his crops. Though he never called to her nothing could keep her from joining him on those walks, not even being hitched to a wagon as my substitute for a draft horse. She was a very large animal and had always roamed freely on our farm so when my father retired and moved into a town over 100 miles away he thought she would be happier with my brother on the farm. After he moved away she laid down on the sidewalk outside the house and would not eat. After 3 weeks my brother called my dad to come and get her because she would not take food and had lost a dramatic amount of weight. She mourned for him to the point of death and after they were reunited lived to a ripe old age with him nearby.