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More animal emotions: Chimps mourn a friend

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As a footnote to our discussion yesterday on animals and emotions, we bring you the story of Dorothy, a female chimpanzee in her late 40s when she died last year of congestive heart failure.

As the photo above shows, a crowd of fellow chimps gathered and watched solemnly as she was wheeled to her burial.

The November issue of National Geographic magazine features the photograph, which has since “gone viral,” turning up in websites, TV shows and newspapers around the world, according to a National Geographic blog

The photographer, Monica Szczupider, is a volunteer at Cameroon’s Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, where Dorothy had lived for eight years. The center houses and rehabilitates chimps victimized by habitat loss and the illegal African bushmeat trade. 

After a hunter killed her mother, Dorothy was sold as a “mascot” to an amusement park in Cameroon, where she spent the next 25 years tethered by a chain around her neck, and was taught to drink beer and smoke cigarettes for the amusement of onlookers.

In May 2000, Dorothy was rescued and relocated along with ten other primates. As her health improved, she cared for an orphaned chimp named Bouboule and became a close friend to many others, including Jacky, the group’s alpha male, and Nama, another amusement-park refugee.

“Her presence, and loss, was palpable, and resonated throughout the group,” Szczupider said. “The management at Sanaga-Yong opted to let Dorothy’s chimpanzee family witness her burial, so that perhaps they would understand, in their own capacity, that Dorothy would not return. Some chimps displayed aggression while others barked in frustration. But perhaps the most stunning reaction was a recurring, almost tangible silence.”

Comments

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time November 5, 2009 at 11:26 am

Since I do a lot of business in beads and gemstones, I spent some time a few years ago looking for an acceptable ivory substitute. I couldn’t even bear the thought of using antique or vintage ivory which is “legal.” The behavior of elephants after one of their group is murdered can only be described as “grief-stricken.” They mourn for days, and they do cry just as humans do. I’m not surprised at the reaction of these chimps–they’re our cousins (or maybe our brothers and sisters).

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