Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Chimpanzee Wake

A chimpanzee death captured on videotape:'
Pansy was probably in her 50s when she died, which is pretty good for a chimpanzee. She passed in a way most of us would envy — peacefully, with her adult daughter, Rosie, and her best friend, Blossom, by her side. . . .  as Pansy struggled to breathe, Blossom held her hand and stroked it.

When the scientists at the park realized Pansy’s death was imminent, they turned on video cameras, capturing intimate moments during her last hours as Blossom, Rosie and Blossom’s son, Chippy, groomed her and comforted her as she got weaker. After she passed, the chimps examined the body, inspecting Pansy’s mouth, pulling her arm and leaning their faces close to hers. Blossom sat by Pansy’s body through the night. And when she finally moved away to sleep in a different part of the enclosure, she did so fitfully, waking and repositioning herself dozens more times than was normal. For five days after Pansy’s death, none of the other chimps would sleep on the platform where she died.
Chimpanzees seem to practice some of the most basic human death rituals: holding vigils, grooming the corpse, coming to see the body one last time before moving on. What it means to them is obscure; but then, what does it mean to us?

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