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Video Suggests Mother Chimps May Grieve Death of an Infant

FRIDAY, Feb. 4 (HealthDay News) -- The death of a baby chimp caused responses in a mother chimpanzee not typically seen directed toward live infants, but it's unclear whether she was actually mourning, researchers say.

The new report may help improve understanding of how chimpanzees, one of humans' closest primate relatives, respond to and learn about death, the study authors noted.

In the study, the researchers observed and made videos of a mother chimpanzee whose 16-month-old infant just died. After carrying the dead infant's body for a day, the mother placed the body on the ground in a clearing and repeatedly approached the body and held her fingers against the infant's face and neck for a number of seconds.

The mother remained near the body for nearly an hour, watching it from a distance, then carried it to a group of chimpanzees and watched as they investigated it. The next day, the mother did not carry the body.

The research, conducted by a team at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, was released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the American Journal of Primatology.

"The videos are extremely valuable, because they force one to stop and think about what might be happening in the minds of other primates. Whether a viewer ultimately decides that the chimpanzee is mourning, or simply curious about the corpse, is not nearly as important as people taking a moment to consider the possibilities," researcher Katherine Cronin said in an institute news release.

More information

The African Wildlife Foundation has more about chimpanzees.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, news release, Jan. 27, 2011

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