Do Other Animals Mourn Their Dead? (ft. BrainCraft and Gross Science!)


[MUSIC] This episode was sponsored by Dropbox. A murder of crows, an appropriate name, considering
these birds’ special relationship with death It’s not because they’re killers, or because they’ll sometimes
scavenge the bodies of the recently departed. When one of their own dies, crows will surround
and call to the dead. In one experiment, scientists holding taxidermied birds approached crows
and were viciously attacked. Of course, the creepy masks didn’t help.
Crows hold funerals, which also explains the black clothing. We also congregate around those we’ve lost,
to remember them, and to console each other in times of sadness and in grief. But are we the only creatures who experience
these emotions? Do animals mourn their dead? [MUSIC] Dying is a fact of life, it’s true for everything
that’s ever been born, and it’s not a pretty thought. After you die, your cells burst open, insects
lay eggs in your body, and bacteria turn you into a putrefaction soup. Thanks Anna, that was gross. Being intelligent
means that we understand a lot about how death happens. Not to mention, the fact that it will
happen to us. Thinking about mortality can influence our
behavior. Humans are curious, anxious, even frightened about death. A side effect of our
intelligence is that we can picture the future, and ourselves and our loved ones won’t be
part of it. Well that’s a cheery thought, Vanessa. For a long time, scientists assumed that grief
was unique to humans, but observing certain animals is making us think again. Eleanor was an elephant. Sick and injured,
she fell behind her herd, and collapsed. Scientists watched as another elephant named Grace ran
to her side, and tried to lift her up. Sadly, she couldn’t. Eleanor died. Over the next several days, her body was visited
by five different groups of elephants, some completely unrelated to her. They circled
the body, caressing it with their feet and trunks, never out of sight even when lions
and hyenas moved in. That’s a sad story, to us, anyway. Scientists
agree that animals have emotions, but forcing human experiences upon them is anthropomorphism.
When elephants and crows hold funerals are we forcing human emotions onto the lives of
animals? Or are they truly experiencing grief? Animal researcher Barbara J. King says that
grief is a change in an animals behavior in response to death. They might shift their daily
routines, adopt different body language, eat or sleep less, or even put themselves in greater
danger to predators. It seems that the elephants were grieving. Other intelligent animals experience grief
in similar ways. Entire troops of chimpanzees will gather around and protect their dead,
mothers will even carry lifeless infants around for days or weeks. Scientists also noticed a group of dolphins
gathered around a dead calf, refusing to eat for days, guarding the body even after it
started to decay. Many scientists are now certain that grieving
isn’t something that we do and animals don’t, it’s just that ours is more complex. There are many things that humans do that
are unique among animals, but many things aren’t. Projecting our emotions onto other
creatures is a bad habit, but we can be sure that animals have emotions of their own. These animals are deeply moved by grief. Some,
like the crows, may use death rituals to learn about death, but for others there seems to
be something more. Many animals are social, they develop relationships
and experience positive emotions from their families and friends. Maybe not happiness,
or love… but something. Animal mourning may stem from those memories,
from realizing what is missing, and we can all relate to that. Stay curious. Follow me over the BrainCraft to find out some
surprising ways that death can affect the minds of the living. And, assuming you haven’t eaten recently,
join me over on Gross Science and we’ll find out how some of life’s tiniest critters can
crack open big mysteries about death. This episode was sponsored by Dropbox. No
matter what you create. Whether you write it, draw it, mix it or test it, Dropbox makes
it simple to work the way that you want. That’s why over 400 million people around the world
use Dropbox to work together on any file with anyone from anywhere. Dropbox, all yours.