Saturday, June 8, 2013
Animal Instinct: Caregivng, Death, Bereavement (Research, Video 4:15)
Instinctive behaviors of many animals often convey their capacity for caregiving and empathy related to death and bereavement. Researchers of chimpanzees reported how three chimpanzees nurtured an elderly dying chimpanzee named Pansy. Although the chimpanzees had been separated from Pansy during the earlier stage of her illness when she was being treated, they were allowed to join her during the final phase just before her death. The chimpanzees “frequently groomed and caressed” her. They stayed close to her, shook her shoulder to test for signs of life, and appeared to understand when she was no longer alive. Although Pansy’s daughter Rosie did not normally sleep near her mother, she stayed with her mother’s corpse most of the night, but she didn’t sleep soundly.
Sixteen hours later, the chimpanzees quietly witnessed Pansy’s corpse being removed by the zookeepers. Days later, they were still subdued and refused to make a nest on the platform where Pansy had died. I thought it was interesting that they also demonstrated a need for more attention for themselves. For humans, the bereavement process is so often made easier when others support their healing.
Should zookeepers re-evaluate the common practice of removing terminally ill animals from a group? James Anderson, lead research author, thinks so. He says, “It may be more humane to allow the group to remain together until a sick animal dies, to give the ailing animal comfort, and allow the group a sense of closure.” Does that sound familiar?
This video highlights an everyday cat coping with the suffering or death of another cat. At the beginning of the video, you may be asked to click on the YouTube link. Witness the raw expression of nurturing and grief that says a lot about animals and heartfelt caregiving. Can you feel the love?
Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble .