Animal grief

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Grief is “a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed”. A common emotion amongst humans, grief is also apparent in other animals, known as animal grief. In the late 19th century, research started to show grief in chimpanzees and the connection between animal and human grief. However, until recently, grief has never been the focus of research. Marc Bekoff, a scientist, has spent his time researching emotions in animals, including grief. Combined with other research, the following animals have been seen to grieve: wolves, chimpanzees, magpies, elephants, dolphins, otters, geese, sea lions, and many more.

Grief can be caused by many things and one of the things to understand is animal pain and emotions.

What is Animal Pain?[edit]

Bernard E. Rollin says that the ability to experience pain is something we have to feel to be considered moral (Rollin, 2010). It can result from something such as a wound or abuse causing physical pain. Animals can also experience pain mentally, such as experiencing grief as well as sadness due to anxiety. Animal pain can be understood once we understand the nature of a certain animal.[1] For example, when somebody is caring for a dog as a pet the individual understands their actions, their traits and emotions. While taking care of an animal we are then able to understand that specific animal and their way of grieving or their happiness per se.[1]

The difference in pain from humans and animals is how one is willing to bear pain for a better lifestyle. Rollin mentions an example of extending life. This example states that the owner may think pain will be a small price to pay for the life of their pet.[1] Since an animal cannot express their pain or how much something may hurt these emotions or decisions are hard to conclude. Pain felt can sometimes be unbearable to the point where humans have the decision or thought to choose death over the continuation of that pain.[1]

Animal Emotions[edit]

A question that is asked is if animals have any emotions? Marc Bekoff defines emotion as something that helps behavioral control and management (Bekoff, 2000).[2] It is known that humans have emotions and that it is something fundamental and important in our lives, however it is hard to say if that is true for animals or just some. There are different ways you can tell the emotion of animal: how they’re acting or how they’re looking at someone or something.

Primary Emotions and Secondary Emotions[edit]

There are different “categories” of emotions known as primary and secondary emotions. Bekoff explains that primary emotions are similar to reflex or something along the lines of fear or fight-or-flight response. Therefore, it is something that animals react to such as loud noises, unknown objects, or odors (Bekoff, 2000).[2] Having primary emotions is crucial because reactions to these are important for an animal's survival. The part of the brain that is responsible for primary emotions is the limbic system (Bekoff, 2000).[2]

Secondary emotions are part of an experience. These emotions are taking part in the central cortex of the brain because of the requirement of different and higher brain centers. With secondary emotions it allows one (in this case the animals that do feel grief) to create the connection between feelings and actions.

Early Research on Animal Grief[edit]

In 1879, Arthur E. Brown studied how a male chimpanzee reacted after the death of his female counterpart. He saw the male chimpanzee display grief and "a cry which the keeper of the animals assures [Brown] he had never heard before").[3] Continuing to the next day, the chimpanzee sulked and barely moved. Brown deciphered that the male chimpanzee was depressed after the female chimpanzee died. However, Brown concluded that any permanent grief is only found in man, as the chimpanzee seemed fine after a couple of days.

William E. Ritter (1925) connects animal and human emotion to provide evidence of human descent from the animal kingdom. He mentions the James-Lange theory, where "all emotional stages as of joy, grief, fear, anger, jealousy, love, are associated with more or less characteristic bodily manifestation".[4] Ritter proposes new evidence to the theory, mentioning that no item on the above list is exclusive to humans, and most are common to the animal world. He argues that because the connection between human emotion and animal emotion is so strong, humans have descended from the animal kingdom.

Marc Bekoff's Recent Research on Animal Grief[edit]

Marc Bekoff is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He has spent his life studying animals and their emotions, finding that animals grieve quite frequently. Such examples of grieving animals are:

  • Bekoff found that sea lion mothers squeal eerily when they watch their babies be eaten by killer whales.[5]
  • Even after their calves have died, dolphin mothers have been seen to save them and grieve when they confirm the death.[5]
  • Elephants have been "observed to stand guard over a stillborn baby for days with their head and ears hanging down". Orphan elephants, who have watched their mothers be killed, have been shown to wake up screaming.[5]
  • A wolf "sniffed [her dead companion], then sat back and gave the most soulful and heart-wrenching howl I've ever heard!"; After a pack member died, the wolves let their tails and heads hang low while walking slowly.[2]
  • Chimpanzee orphans can die while in the state of grieving.[2] Jane Goodall (1990) followed Flint, a chimpanzee, for a few days after the death of Flint's friend Flo. She noted that Flint "walked along one of the branches, then stopped and stood motionless, staring down at an empty nest". Flint had been lethargic, even refusing food. Per Goodall, Flint was "hollow-eyed, gaunt and utterly depressed".[6]
  • Magpies have been seen to mourn over their dead.[7]
  • After a fellow goose died, Konrad Lorenz noted that other geese had their "eyes sink deep into their sockets, and the individual ha[d] an overall drooping experience, literally letting the head hang".[8]

[2] The previous example shows that animals can express their grief and it is possible for an individual to identify that. Bekoff mentions an experience of a bird that lost its partner. It showed many signs of depression before it ended up passing away in a vegetative state similar to the one his partner ended up dying in (Bekoff, 2010). Many animals can show grief when they have lost a loved one of their own.

How Long Do Animals Feel Grief?[edit]

One of the questions that can be asked aside from do animals grieve is how long do they grieve for or if these animals show signs of mourning. Anthropologist Barbra J King mentions how animals might sleep less or change their ways in their daily life styles. These animals might also end up staying close to their companion's corpse for a long time as well (Safina, 2015).[9] Something we know is that emotions in a human can change, one day they can be sad and the other happy. Actions are taken days after one of our loved ones die, such as time of school, work or any social interaction (Safina, 2015).[9] It is actually the same for animals. An example that can be shown is in chimpanzees.

A case is shown with one named Amos. The day before he died he spent the day in his nest and did not move until a female chimpanzee Daisy went up to him (Safina, 2015).[9] When Amos died, one of the chimpanzees who was more sociable than the rest as well as a “higher rank” than the rest did not want to be with the group for weeks. As shown here it also depends on who passed away on how long an animal can grieve. Though through the time spent mourning many signs can appear of an animals grief and agony of the loss of their companion.

Another example mentioned is the dog Hachiko from Tokyo. In this case the dog was not grieving due to the death of an animal, but of the loss of its owner. It is known that this dog went to the station where his owner would come home to every day for around ten years.

Other Research on Animal Grief[edit]

Though Bekoff is the face of recent research on animal grief, other scientists are starting to look more into it. Some studies have looked at depression in animals, with Paul Willner finding that there are eighteen animal models of depression.[10] Peter J. Fashing & Nga Nguyen (2012) found that a group of chimpanzees groomed and caressed a grieving, older chimpanzee. They also found that "the dying female [elephant] was approached by the matriarch of another group who repeatedly attempted to bring her to her feet using her tusks". Even otters grieve, where members of a group caught fish for months and brought them to the matriarch who had failing vision and poor mobility.[11]

Implications of Research[edit]

Though grief in animals may seem questionable, evidence shows it is abundant. From chimpanzees to otters to sea lions, animals grieve just like humans do. Researchers like Bekoff, Fashing, Nguyen, and others, are studying every day to help better understand how and why animals grieve. With increased knowledge, humans can have better relationships with animals. For example, zoo caretakers can study chimpanzee grief habits and better notice when a chimpanzee mother is mourning. The caretakers can then help the mother cope and live a healthy and successful life. Research shows grief in animals, and understanding that can help humans form closer, healthier connections with them.


  1. ^ a b c d Rollin, Bernard E (2011). "Animal Pain: What It is and Why It Matters". The Journal of Ethics. 15 (4): 425–437. doi:10.1007/s10892-010-9090-y. JSTOR 41486940.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bekoff, Marc (2010). The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy--and why They Matter. New World Library. ISBN 9781577313489.
  3. ^ Brown, Arthur E. (1879). "Grief in the Chimpanzee". The American Naturalist. 13 (3): 173–175. doi:10.1086/272298. JSTOR 2448772.
  4. ^ Ritter, William E. (1925). "The Emotions in Man and Animals". The Scientific Monthly. 21 (2): 137–138. JSTOR 7499.
  5. ^ a b c Bekoff, Marc (2000). "Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures | BioScience | Oxford Academic". Bioscience. 50 (10): 861. doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2000)050[0861:AEEPN]2.0.CO;2.
  6. ^ Goodall, Jane (2011). Through a Window: 30 years observing the Gombe chimpanzees. Orion. ISBN 9780297865360.
  7. ^ Bekoff, Marc (2009). "Animal emotions, wild justice and why they matter: Grieving magpies, a pissy baboon, and empathic elephants - ScienceDirect". Emotion, Space and Society. 2 (2): 82–85. doi:10.1016/j.emospa.2009.08.001.
  8. ^ Bekoff, Marc (2002). Minding Animals: Awareness, Emotions, and Heart. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 9780195150773.
  9. ^ a b c "The Depths of Animal Grief — NOVA Next | PBS". NOVA Next. 2015-07-08. Retrieved 2018-06-01.
  10. ^ Willner, Paul (1984). "The validity of animal models of depression". Psychopharmacology. 83 (1): 1–16. doi:10.1007/BF00427414. PMID 6429692.
  11. ^ "Behavior toward the dying, diseased, or disabled among animals and its relevance to paleopathology" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-04-02.
  • BEKOFF, MARC (2000). "Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures". BioScience. 50 (10): 861. doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2000)050[0861:aeepn];2.
  • Bekoff, M. (2008) [Gana holds her dead baby]. (13, May 2). Retrieved November 16, 2016
  • Brown, Arthur E. (1879). "Grief in the Chimpanzee". The American Naturalist. 13 (3): 173–175. doi:10.1086/272298. JSTOR 2448772.
  • Lorenz, K., Martys, M., & Tipler, A. (1992). Here I am - where are you?: The behaviour of the greylag goose. HarperCollins.
  • Rollin, Bernard E. (2011). "Animal Pain: What It is and Why It Matters". The Journal of Ethics. 15 (4): 425–437. doi:10.1007/s10892-010-9090-y. JSTOR 41486940.
  • Young, R. (2013). [Elephants mourning over bones of loss ones]. (13, May 2). Retrieved November 16, 2016