Chimps Mourn Passing of One of Their Own

Grieving chimps

If you ever doubted that animals feel sorrow, this photograph will make you believe.

Featured in the November issue of National Geographic Magazine, the touching photo captures more than a dozen chimpanzees gazing on as the body of one of their own is wheeled away.

The photograph was taken in September 2008, after Dorothy, a female chimp in her late 40s died of congestive heart failure at Cameroon's Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center.

VIDEO: Chimpanzees in Cameroon grieve while watching a burial of one of their own.
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Monica Szcupider, the photographer, submitted the photo to "Your Photo" a National Geographic feature that solicits pictures readers have taken. She told the magazine that she had been a volunteer at the rescue center where Dorothy had lived for eight years.

Before arriving at the center, Dorothy had been a "mascot" at an amusement park in Cameroon. For 25 years, she was confined, teased, taught to drink beer and smoke cigarettes, National Geographic reported. The mistreatment took its toll and, by the time she was rescued by the center in 2000, she was obese and in poor health. But as she recovered, she grew very close to the other chimps at the refuge.

All Great Apes Feel Sorrow

"Her presence, and loss, was palpable, and resonated throughout the group. 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," Szcupider said. "Some chimps displayed aggression while others barked in frustration, but perhaps the most stunning reaction was a recurring, almost tangible silence. If one knows chimpanzees, then one knows that [they] are not [usually] silent creatures."

Patti Ragan, director of the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Fla., told ABCNews.com that when she first saw the photograph she was touched, but not surprised, by the chimps' reaction.

"All great apes feel sorrow when they lose someone in their family," she said, adding that human and ape DNA sequences are 99 percent similar.

Animals' Emotional Reactions Cannot Be Generalized

"There are many cases where older animals have died or sick animals have died, and the keeper will allow the rest of the family to mourn," she said. "Animals will come up and touch the body and sit with it."

A few years ago, she said, a male chimp at her center named Charlie had a heart attack and died while he was with his daughter and his mate of many years.

"They were crying and very distressed," Ragan said. Charlie's mate, Oopsie, was so stricken with grief that she refused food and wouldn't leave her nest for 2 or 3 days.

Other species, such as elephants, parrots and other house pets, also mourn the passing of loved ones, she said.

And, like humans, animals' reactions can't be generalized.

"It's individual," Ragan said. "Some people cope in a certain way, some can't."

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