Virginia Morrell at Lapham's Quarterly:
It is often said that our understanding and knowledge of death separates the human animal from all other animals. We alone know that we will die—that one day, suddenly or slowly, our life, our loves, our dreams will end. Surely this awareness sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, we say, pointing to some of our greatest art, music, and literature—all inspired by what we know: that death awaits every living being. And yet, how very odd it is that we should be the only animal to know what life ultimately has in store for us. We share biological histories and physiologies DNA, eyes, muscles, nerves, neurons, hormones—with other animals, and these may lead to similar behaviors, thought processes, and emotions—even about death.
Take the case of Thomas, a nine-year-old chimpanzee who died in 2010 at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia, home to more than one hundred chimps. Research scientists filmed the reactions of one community of forty-three chimpanzees to Thomas’ corpse; thirty-eight of them gathered around and stayed by his side for almost twenty minutes. During that time, some of the chimps gently touched his body, smelled and studied him closely.