Death rituals in the animal kingdom

Jason G. Goldman at the BBC:

P00ysyd4While the details vary from tradition to tradition, the pattern is undeniable: humans seem to find value in guarding or watching the bodies of the deceased for some period of time following death.

But as we are beginning to discover, these behaviours may transcend species boundaries as well.

On 10 October 2003, a researcher watched as a female elephant named Eleanor collapsed. Her swollen trunk had been dragging on the ground while her ears and legs displayed evidence of another recent fall. One of her tusks was broken. An elephant named Grace, a member of a different social group, galloped towards Eleanor and tried to heave Eleanor back to her feet with her massive tusks, but Eleanor's back legs were too weak. The rest of the herd had moved on, but Grace remained with Eleanor at least another hour, until the sun disappeared below the horizon and night fell over Kenya. Eleanor died the following morning at 11am.

The parade of elephants that followed may – in some deep, fundamental way – be no different from those who gather to pay respects to a dignitary lying in state. Over the course of several days, the carcass was visited by five other elephant groups, including several families that were completely unrelated to Eleanor. The elephants sniffed and poked the body, touching it with their feet and trunks.

More here.