Chimp Has Been Carrying Dead Infant for 3 Months

Possible mourning ritual observed at Spain's Bioparc Valencia
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2024 1:30 PM CDT
Chimp Has Been Carrying Dead Infant for 3 Months
Chimpanzee Natalia is pictured with her infant, then living.   (Bioparc Valencia)

A chimpanzee born at a zoo in Valencia, Spain, survived only two weeks before dying in February. Three months later, the infant's decomposing body remains in its enclosure at Bioparc Valencia with no current plan to remove it, despite the alarm caused to visitors. That's because the infant's mother, Natalia, isn't yet ready to part with it. Indeed, as IFLScience reports, the chimp has been carrying the corpse ever since February. Three months have gone by and "the situation remains the same, as she continues to carry" the baby, a zoo rep tells the outlet. The episode has turned a spotlight on what experts say is a heartbreaking ritual observed among wild chimpanzees, too.

A 2010 study described how the mothers of two young chimps who died of a respiratory illness in Bossou, Guinea, in 2003 "continued to carry their offspring's lifeless bodies for 68 and 19 days after death, respectively," and regularly groomed the bodies during that time. The report came two decades after a Bossou chimp was observed carrying the corpse of her infant for 27 days, according to the study. This "is a natural behavior perfectly documented in this species and other similar ones, even in other mammals such as whales or elephants," a rep for Bioparc Valencia tells IFLScience. Still, "it is unusual for the process to be so stark or so long," as in Natalia's case, Reuters reports.

The behavior isn't well understood, but could be a sign of mourning. Researchers have suggested chimps have a "highly developed awareness of death," per CBS News. The authors of the 2010 study noted "all members of the community demonstrated high levels of tolerance towards the corpses," despite the "intense smell of decay and highly unusual appearance" as the bodies became mummified. The sight of Natalia's dead infant, now in an advanced state of decomposition, can alarm zoo visitors, People reports. But "as soon as we explain to them why we have left it and why we are keeping it under observation, they understand it," a zoo rep tells CBS. (More chimpanzees stories.)

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