Goldsborough, Z., van Leeuwen, E. J. C., Kolff, K. W. T. et al. 2020. Do chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) console a bereaved mother? Primates volume 61(1), 93–102.
Comparative thanatology encompasses the study of death-related responses in non-human animals and aspires to elucidate the evolutionary origins of human behavior in the context of death. Many reports have revealed that humans are not the only species affected by the death of group members. Non-human primates in particular show behaviors such as congregating around the deceased, carrying the corpse for prolonged periods of time (predominantly mothers carrying dead infants), and inspecting the corpse for signs of life. Here, we extend the focus on death-related responses in non-human animals by exploring whether chimpanzees are inclined to console the bereaved: the individual(s) most closely associated with the deceased. We report a case in which a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) mother experienced the loss of her fully developed infant (presumed stillborn). Using observational data to compare the group members’ behavior before and after the death, we found that a substantial number of group members selectively increased their affiliative expressions toward the bereaved mother. Moreover, on the day of the death, we observed heightened expressions of species-typical reassurance behaviors toward the bereaved mother. After ruling out several alternative explanations, we propose that many of the chimpanzees consoled the bereaved mother by means of affiliative and selective empathetic expressions.