Do Giraffes Mourn? The Debate Continues

There has long been a debate among different scientists as to whether animals have emotions. One of the largest parts of this debate is whether or not animals have a true "awareness" of death. In a recent article for Giraffe (Photo by Hans Hillewaert/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)Giraffe (Photo by Hans Hillewaert/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)the African Journal of Ecology, the latest incident of a female giraffe refusing to leave the body of her dead calf has brought the debate back to the table.

A zoologist tracking giraffes in Zambia witnessed the giraffe bending down to her baby repeatedly to lick it, even though the calf was obviously deceased. She spent more than two hours alone with the calf.

The finding was remarkable for several reasons:

  • Female giraffes rarely spend any time alone.  
  • Giraffes rarely bend down. To do so they must awkwardly splay their legs. This move is saved for drinking water, and occasionally for eating.
  • This is only the third such incident ever encountered.

The evidence of animals mourning the loss of their friends or family is more pronounced in highly social species such as elephants and chimpanzees. Elephants have been known to investigate and guard the dead, while chimpanzees have been known to carry deceased offspring around for a while.

Aside from some evidence of giraffes having an awareness of death, this incident also demonstrates that giraffe mothers bond more with their calves than previously suspected.

Source: BBC Nature News

Laurie Kay Olson
Animal News Blogger


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