DO animals feel empathy? To varying degrees, most people can understand what others are feeling because they’ve experienced it or they have the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
When it comes to animals, the tendency is to assume they don’t have this ability.
It’s quite an assumption, considering most animals are social creatures who form bonded relationships.
In her book, How Animals Grieve, author and professor of anthropology Barbara King argues researchers are gathering observations which suggest animals mourn in ways people can recognise.
Animal grief may not be as complex as human grief, but researchers have seen animal behaviour that mirrors human reactions to loss, including symptoms of depression.
Some species of animals, such as elephants, engage in funeral- type rituals when a member of their herd dies.
They appear deeply affected and have been known to stay with an elephant’s body for a week after death, as part of a kind of extended wake.
It is tricky to establish exactly what goes on inside an animal’s mind when one of their group dies, but preliminary evidence suggests grief responses.
It is not uncommon to hear of cats and dogs who go off their food or let out an intense, eerie howl when one of their pack passes on.
Many have witnessed the sorrowful scenes on dairy farms when cows have their calves taken from them – when calves are removed, mother cows will frantically bellow for their offspring.
Chimps, baboons and bonobos carry their dead babies for a week or more, with one recorded case of a mother primate carrying her dead baby for 68 days.
As empathic humans, it shouldn’t be so hard for us to accept the idea that animals also suffer.
Maybe they do it differently, maybe it’s less profound, but in their own particular way they are likely to mourn and grieve their losses too.
How Animals Grieve ( 2013), by Barbara J. King. RRP: Hardcover, $ 28.35