I was just going through some old magazines and came across a fascinating article in New Scientist – web version here. It describes how chimpanzees were observed carrying around the bodies of dead infants for weeks or even months.
In many ways, their mothers treated the corpses as though they were still alive: they groomed them, swatted flies away and made high-pitched screams of distress when they accidentally dropped the bodies. But there were telltale signs – occasional flinching, for instance – showing that they knew the infants were dead.
I always seem to be coming across articles like this. It seems that the more research we do, the more we discover how sophisticated animals are. Yet the way we treat them is often based on the old beliefs: they’re not like us, they don’t feel pain, they don’t understand loss, etc etc. Surely at some point behaviours have to change – or at least we’ll need to come up with new justifications for doing what we want to do.