Chimps filmed grieving for dead friend


Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) infant age 7 months, peeking out of grooming group, tropical forest, Western Uganda

Source: BBC

By Matt Walker

A unique, remarkable and intimate film may change the way we think about animals, and their ability to feel grief.

The newly-published film captures the solemn reactions of a group of chimpanzees who discover the dead body of a friend.

For 20 minutes, the chimpanzees quietly gather around their friend, despite offers of food to tempt them away. They gently touch and sniff his body, with chimps who were closer friends with the deceased appearing to be the most upset.

An older female chimp then attends to the dead ape, tenderly attempting to clean his teeth with a stem of grass.

Excerpts of the film can be viewed here.

Do chimps mourn their dead? (Credit: Jabruson/

The incident occurred at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in the Copperbelt region of northwestern Zambia.

Chimps living here had been either rescued from the illegal wildlife trade years earlier, or born into the community since.

The ape that died was a 9-year-old chimpanzee known to human observers as Thomas.

He lived in a group of 43 chimpanzees, in a large outdoor enclosure full of dense forest.

Close friends

Thomas was a highly social and gregarious member of his troop.

Having lost his own mother when he was five-years-old, he had developed a particular friendship with another older male called Pan.

“The male Pan had adopted Thomas, which is very special in chimpanzee community,” primatologist Dr Edwin van Leeuwen explained to BBC Earth.

The two of them used to spend a lot of time together, often greeting, provoking and playing with other passing chimps.

Tests later conducted on Thomas’s body suggest he died from viral and bacterial infections that made it difficult for him to breathe.

When the troop of chimpanzees discovered Thomas, Pan is recorded on film acting unusually, repeatedly visiting and defending the body of his friend.

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