From holding deathbed vigils to comforting the dying, chimpanzees face death in humanlike ways that indicate their awareness of death is probably much more developed than previously thought, suggest two new studies. The papers, both published in the journal Current Biology, provide rare, intimate glimpses of chimpanzees dealing with death. For the first study, scientists observed how three adult chimpanzees reacted when an elderly female, named Pansy, gradually passed away in an indoor enclosure at Blair Drummond Safari Park in Stirling, Scotland. The over 50-year-old Pansy had grown increasingly lethargic before lying down on the floor one day after eating.
“In the days before Pansy died, the others were notably attentive towards her, and they even altered their routine sleeping arrangements to remain by her, by sleeping on the floor in a room where they don't usually sleep,” lead author James Anderson told Discovery News. Blossom, another elderly female, and Pansy's daughter, Rosie, both stroked and groomed the dying Pansy, and sometimes just sat, subdued, beside the elderly female. Blossom's son Chippy checked to see if Pansy was alive by manipulating her arms and trying to open her mouth.
All of the chimps tossed and turned at night, much more than normal, during the dying female's final few days.