Chimpanzee mother learns her infant has died (video)


84 Responses to “Chimpanzee mother learns her infant has died (video)”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Now imagine how many millions of times our own ancestors had to go through stuff like this in the Past… Our evolutionary tree is filled with confusion and pain, whether we like it or not.
    This video was like going back in time and seeing our great-g-g- (…)-g-g-g-g-g-granparents dealing with the cut-off branches of their descendence.
    Everybody watching and reading this, and just alive today, is descended from those who were fortunate enough not to go through moments like this so many times.
    So our evolutionary tree is filled with success and perhaps moments of life at its best as well.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think mom checked her baby’s pulse twice. She looked just like a skilled human checking a pulse on a carotid artery.

  3. arikol says:

    that was painful to watch. tears in the corners of my eyes. It’s like she’s in partial denial, yet knows that her baby is gone.

    and I think that @hughelectronic (comment #1) has a pretty good point there. That these lovely creatures could be close relatives (parallel evolution from shared ancestors) should not offend anyone.

  4. saurabh says:

    This seems to be a video of a wake.

  5. Anonymous says:

    But..but…animals having feelings is just us anthropomorphizing them! They don’t really feel, they don’t have souls!

    Praise Jesus.

  6. InsertFingerHere says:

    Technically, it wasn’t a very great video. And as I’m watching thing, I’m thinking “Those loud idiots are gonna distract her!” I was expecting a cell phone to start ringing. And the slides .. oi.

    If the chimp does something, and the next ‘thing’ is 15s away, I’ll watch those 15 seconds, because the subject matter is absolutely fascinating. Some close ups of faces would have sold this, no question.

  7. qatarperegrine says:

    I’m with travtastic. That’s about the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. Now I’m going to wipe these tears away and give my baby a big hug and think about unicorns.

  8. karl_jones says:

    Not gonna watch it, too painful just thinking about it. (In fact, I wish Boing Boing wouldn’t post this sort of thing.)

    I’m reminded of two scenes — both of them heart-rending — from Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.

    First the young Greystoke witnesses the death of his ape-mother; later, the death of his ape-father. Both scenes made me weep.

  9. bklynchris says:

    yeah, I couldn’t click on it either….

  10. TheViolentVicar says:

    I have always found it interesting that many people seem to take the default position that(other) animals don’t have emotions. As a person who tends towards empiricism, I find that position hard to understand.

    I have had dogs my whole life. They act, by turns, happy, sad, fearful, and excited. They have individual personalities; they appear each to enjoy different activities and experiences. When I see them after a long absence, they appear to be happy to see me.

    Similarly, I have been around humans my whole life. These humans act, by turns, happy, sad, fearful, and excited. They have individual personalities; they appear each to enjoy different activities and experiences. When I see people I know after a long absence, they appear to be happy to see me.

    I cannot prove that the people I know experience emotion any more than I can prove that my dogs do. But I can say this: they all act as if they do. The absence of the ability to describe in words what one feels cannot be taken as evidence that the feeling does not exist. I am therefore content to say that that which
    walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck is, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, a duck.

    Now I am going to go hug my dogs.

  11. Laroquod says:

    While I do believe that chimpanzees feel emotions like grief very similarly to human beings, I didn’t see any openly expressed evidence of it on this video, and I don’t really understand why it was linked.

    Ever studied Eisenstein? The chimp’s behaviour are fairly neutral here — what you are seeing when you look at it is your emotions, not hers.

    Let me repeat again that I’m not trying to say that chimps don’t feel anything. I believe they do. Unfortunately though, this video doesn’t show it.

  12. Feenicks says:

    i just cant bring myself to watch it…


    watched a few second snippet part way through, that’s enough…

  13. endymion says:

    Also agreed with Brainspore.

    I do not have the right to witness this.

  14. fnc says:

    I was too curious not to view it. It’s hard for me to say how sad she felt without knowing more about chimpanzee psychology. She was surprisingly calm and I couldn’t tell if it was because she couldn’t fully process that the child wasn’t going to wake up, or if chimps just don’t react emotionally the same way humans do. Still very sad in the sense that she lost a family member though.

    • chgoliz says:

      She was surprisingly calm and I couldn’t tell if it was because she couldn’t fully process that the child wasn’t going to wake up, or if chimps just don’t react emotionally the same way humans do.

      Actually, shock is a normal reaction in humans too. Weeping and wailing to the skies happens in some cultures but is not universal.

  15. sbarnes2 says:

    This video is no doubt super sad, but what makes it noteworthy? Just as an interesting factoid? Or does it demonstrate some new knowledge made about the chimpanzee grieving process? For example, from my anthropomorphically biased perspective, it looks like she is trying to see if the baby is breathing. Sorry, chimp mommy- it’s not. :,(

    Does BB even do unicorn chasers anymore? Seems like long time since I’ve seen one. Here you go, unicorn lovers:

  16. robulus says:

    If you think your use of the comparison was justified, defend it. Don’t stamp your feet like a tween without an iphone.

    I can’t even tell who your original comment was directed to, much less why it was so pointed.

    • travtastic says:

      Well, first off, I do not not know you. Please do not infer that I am a child, because you sure as hell do not know me.

      Also, I have to mention that your “DUDE CHECK YOURSELF!!1!1″ comment was actually the first time you commented on this article. Clearly I was using my telepathy to see you preparing to comment here, and I preempted you. But since I you hadn’t commented yet, I had no choice but to not direct the comment at you. I’m incredibly devious like that. For this I am forever sorry.

      And if you would like to see my defense of my comment, please go here. You see, what I was doing was implying that maybe we shouldn’t be wondering if chimps can experience emotional pain, if they’re just ‘confused’. The comparison was meant to evoke a feeling of empathy, since the mother is reacting the same way a human would, without any screaming.

      • Brainspore says:

        This is how the preceding conversation would have gone down in a parallel universe where everyone treats each other with civility and respect on the internet.

        PERSON A: Makes comment which could be potentially, if unintentionally, cause offense to a reasonable person.
        PERSON B: Takes offense at original comment, explains reason for doing so.
        PERSON A: Apologizes for causing offense while explaining that said offense was not intended.

        • travtastic says:

          In said parallel universe, no one speaks a word to another soul for fear of triggering some deep-seated emotional trouble.

          I don’t freak out when someone mentions a dead girlfriend. I especially don’t when I’m not even involved in the conversation.

          I’m also curious as to why the dead (non-human, albeit) child in the video has yet to produce a ton of comments saying how Xeni has no tact or social skills for posting it in the first place.

        • travtastic says:

          Well, just to be clear for everyone.

          Say that, instead of a dead baby chimp being mourned by its mother, it was a dead teenager in Egypt being mourned by his mother. Would we be talking about how we can’t be sure exactly what’s going on, due to cross-cultural differences? Because that’s what I’m getting at here. There are mountains of evidence from decades of research showing that chimpanzees are quite capable of emotion, and displaying many traits which we would otherwise regard as solely human.

      • robulus says:

        OK trav, what I’m getting here is a really strong emotional reaction to my intitial comment. You’ve somehow got the idea that I was calling you a child, and that I use all-caps and exclamation marks a lot more liberally than I in fact do.

        Perhaps my choice of words was poor, I meant “check yourself” completely independently from the checking you were describing, and the juxtoposition of the two sentences has obviously caused some confusion and exasperation on your part.

        Since you seem interested (in a sort of very angry, pouty way) to hear about me and my response to this video, I’ll gladly oblige.

        I’m a guy with two young children, one about the age of the chimpanzee in this video. I watched it, was moved almost to tears within seconds, and realised that I was indeed placing myself in the situation and anthropomorphising it’s subjects. The emotional anaesthesia that immediately followed was so successful that I couldn’t form any meaningful opinion of the video, couldn’t connect in any way with the chimpanzees, and didn’t feel I had anything interesting to offer as a comment. (Although now that I write that it does sound quite good.)

        None the less I have been watching the thread, as it is the sort of thing that brings out a lot of sincere responses, and contrary to appearances that’s something I really enjoy about BB.

        So when I read your comment and couldn’t find any post in the thread that even remotely seemed to justify it, I commented, quite curtly, that you should check yourself.

        And by ‘check yourself’ I meant that, in my opinion, in a thread where people have shared deeply personal experiences involving the loss of their children, such loss shouldn’t be used as a casual way to forward one’s personal agenda.

        Perhaps I’m wrong, but you are yet to show otherwise, and yet to even try.

        Let’s not dwell, I’ve made my point as clearly as I can, take from it what you will.

        • travtastic says:

          Oh, god.

          1)“Don’t stamp your feet like a tween without an iphone.” “You’ve somehow got the idea that I was calling you a child…”
          Please do not attempt to alter the reality of your previous statements when they can still be read immediately above.

          2)“such loss shouldn’t be used as a casual way to forward one’s personal agenda”
          Which is what, that I’m some kind of chimpanzee PR representative? The point I’m trying to make is the point being made by almost everyone else in the thread. My comment was aimed at the others.

          3)“Since you seem interested (in a sort of very angry, pouty way) to hear about me and my response to this video, I’ll gladly oblige.”
          What I would like is for you to stop delivering off-handed insults to me. Act polite. Act like an adult.

          4)”I’m a guy with two young children, one about the age of the chimpanzee in this video. I watched it, was moved almost to tears within seconds…”
          So wait, hold on: you don’t even HAVE a deceased child? Because I do have deceased loved ones. See my second-to-last comment. It was not due to old age. And do you know what my reaction to her death was?

          It was something like this.

  17. timothystotz says:

    One year and two weeks ago today, our first child was stillborn. Shortly after her arrival, we held her and said goodbye in an air of absolutely paralyzing anxiety, horror and shock. There was no action to take, and we knew it. We saw her again in the hospital morgue two days later, when my wife could walk, and she said, “I know it’s crazy but I just want to take her and run away with her.” Watching this mother confront the same unimaginable event, I now recall how my hands refused to work when the nurse tried to hand my daughter to me, and the size of the shadow that we stepped into when we looked into her face. Thank you for this. I completely understand the urge to turn away, or avert your eyes, but this gives me a little bit of myself back.

  18. IanGun says:

    I watched this with my 11 week-old son asleep on my lap. Life is rare and precious, I know it now more than ever after watching her return to check to see if her baby was truly gone. Horrible.
    My little man

  19. jamminben says:

    I have to say, I usually wander into boingboing for the fun, funny, and strange. I don’t mind you posting this, of course (it’s your site, after all!), but looking at a picture of a dead baby wasn’t really on my list of things to do today. Bummed me out. I would vote for putting the post up, but maybe putting the actual photo/video embed a click away from the main page. Sorry for the over-sensitivity, but jeepers, this really bummed me out.

  20. Anonymous says:

    These animals are our fellows. They are not property, they are not ours to own, enslave, kill or butcher for our own pleasures and appetites. There is value in every conscious being. We grasp that so vividly when view episodes of emotions in others like in the video. It is time we all act according to those values in our own everyday lives and everyday choices. They are our fellows, not property, not products.

  21. knoxblox says:

    I’ve seen enough death up close in my lifetime not to let it get to me too much, but it’s hard not to sympathize with someone who is suddenly subjected to the idea that her offspring is gone.

    So sad.

  22. KidDork says:

    That was very painful.

  23. Emo Pinata says:

    She appears more confused than actually grieving, but I can see why it would strike people based on their own experience.

  24. an0nymous says:

    Why my fonts blurry?

  25. Anonymous says:

    An interesting video. I saw more confusion than grief here. It is interesting to see the posts of those who seem to heavily identify with the mother chimp. I’m no biologist, but I think it might be a mistake to attribute too much human emotion to the beings in this video, after all, what we would regard as a smile is a sign of aggression for a chimp.

  26. coverandwait says:

    Yeah, definitely not watching this. I’m sad enough just thinking about it.

  27. El Mariachi says:

    This post is a little late for Melancholy Monkey Monday.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I’m buoyed by the number of people who said they couldn’t watch this (better class of comments on boing boing). I didn’t press play either simply because I know how painful it would be. Nevertheless it does have some positive aspects, it illuminates how all life is the same, we all feel loss, joy, fear and happiness. We seek shelter and comfort. Whether its my dog looking for her favourite toy to take into her bed or children seeking the attention of their parents.
    I watched a David Attenborough documentary about Antarctica which contained a scene of a penguin, which had been attacked and injured, trying to return to its nest. In the film you could plainly see the penguin understood the nature of its predicament and prepared for the worst.
    All life seeks the same and the sooner we recognise, and act on that, then the happier we will be.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Sad, but fascinating at the same time. You can tell that the mother knows something is wrong with her baby, but I’m not sure she recognizes what it is going on exactly. I think they should have shot her interacting with her group with the dead baby and recorded their reactions as well. Would knowledge of death be a learned trait from older members of the group?

  30. Esmeralda_m says:


    why did I watch this

  31. Anonymous says:

    Very good video, althoug heartwrenching. And, not to make light of the situation, the last line in the description is suspect: This report was a collaborative effort between the Max Planck Institute, Chimfunshi, and Gonzaga University.

  32. spanish pantalones says:

    Don’t fall for it everybody. It’s a rick roll!

  33. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Compose yourselves.

    • travtastic says:

      Yeah. I’m actually done too.

      Generally I come here, as opposed to other sites, to get away from having to hear about fake dead children being used to emotionally manipulate people.

      • robulus says:

        Trav, on rereading that post it does imply pretty clearly that I was speaking of a personal loss, when in fact I meant you were evoking that loss. It was a terrible choice of words in retrospect, and I do apologise. Please believe it was not my intention to mislead you.

        This has really gone way off the rails, on a very sensitive topic, and I deeply regret making any comment whatsoever.

        OK. Really letting it go now for good.

  34. Anonymous says:

    I definitely have a ‘sad gene’ but I watched it and didn’t find it horribly depressing. I thought it was sort of moving and it did make me feel that those creatures are our kin.

  35. hughelectronic says:

    How anyone can act indignant at the suggestion that these are our relatives, I don’t know. Just look at them! They are just like us. Just. Like. Us.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I have been dealing with grief for some time now, and while I watched this I felt tears going down my face. Not sure if I’m crying for the dead chimp, the mother, or myself. Actually, I’m crying for all three of us.

  37. mchampag says:

    Bracketing for a moment the question of whether the mother was experiencing an emotional response to her situation, it is heartwarming to see humans (BoingBoing readers, no less) exhibiting compassion.

  38. Brainspore says:

    Nope, sorry, I’m not gonna watch this- for the same reason I wouldn’t want to watch a video of a human mother in the same circumstance.

  39. saehn says:

    The human reaction to this video is at least as interesting as the her reaction!

  40. travtastic says:

    Well. That’s the saddest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.

  41. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know how anyone , seeing a video like this one could even consider the slaughter of primates . Surely this is proof of their caring & love; their loyalty to their beloved infants ? Is this not one of the main criteria for humanity ? That we care for our weak, our defenseless, our ill ?

  42. starcadia says:

    And thus philosphy and religion evolved.

  43. erzatsen says:

    unicorn, chase the sadness away!

  44. Anonymous says:

    I wonder what Schopenhauer would say about this..

  45. jack5225 says:


  46. Ugly Canuck says:

    Viewing this, our sorrows and joys seem not to be not so very different from those of our ancestors, even of the farthest degree.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Fascinating video. Thanks for the post. Reactions are also fascinating. Amazing how much we sympathize with our close relatives,that we make an effort to see some kind of echo of humanity. Perhaps we can’t not make such an effort.

  48. Anonymous says:

    Incredibly sad but I think we need to see these type of things no matter how depressing they might be. Look at the reactions you are getting- people are hugging their kids because of this!

    I agree that we cannot deny the link between humans and apes. The way the mother acted was like she was in shock, just like I would be if my child had died. She obviously felt as helpless as one of us would feel and I found it moving when her peers tried to help her.

    Thanks for posting…and I will hug my kids a little harder today.

  49. travtastic says:

    Since some people seem to be confused, let me clarify something here.

    This is not a video of a fish with people saying “Aww, hey, it looks sad!” This is our closest living relative mourning her dead child. To imply that we’re anthropomorphizing the situation, is basically to say that humans are miraculous enough to have completely invented being visibly sad and upset.

    Most chimps that have been studied are capable of learning sign language with hundreds of individuals signs, and many are able to use them grammatically. Considering that I can glance at my cat and tell you what kind of mood she’s in and how she’ll react to something, this is sort of ridiculous.

    She’s not confused, she’s checking to see if her kid is 100% dead. If it was your baby dead on the ground, would you not check? Would you check once, and say “Aw, crap, definitely dead. Sucks!”?

  50. Nicky G says:

    Dang, this is getting as intense as the thread with the picture of the cat that’s missing its face!

    • Anonymous says:

      I had a feeling the comments might get contentious, simply because, like the Chase No Face post, this is something disturbing to many people and it’s bound to elicit strong reations. It felt potentially sensationalistic.

      But I do think there is value in it, just like there is value in the Chase post. Of course that’s not the way everyone feels. That’s fine.

  51. Mythus says:

    That was heartbreaking. I nearly started crying around… 4:51, I think, when she pounded her head, her heart twice, and then reached to touch his chest over his heart.

    • travtastic says:

      That kind of struck me as odd.

      If they’re chimps used in cognitive or behavioral studies, they were taught some sign language.

      • Michael Smith says:


        That was heartbreaking. I nearly started crying around… 4:51, I think, when she pounded her head, her heart twice, and then reached to touch his chest over his heart.
        #41 • 6:29 PM, Feb 1 • Reply
        travtastic in reply to Mythus

        That kind of struck me as odd.

        If they’re chimps used in cognitive or behavioral studies, they were taught some sign language.

        travtastic: once in Malaysia I saw a monkey which had been killed by a car. Another monkey was standing over the body pounding their head in exactly the same way. I think we must have the same programming because I was in no doubt about the emotions being expressed there.

    • Opi-Poi says:

      “…4:51, I think, when she pounded her head, her heart twice,
      and then reached to touch his chest over his heart.

      I didn’t see it that way. To my mind she is getting rid of the flies,
      and i think she clearly touches the infants neck/chin area.
      Is she checking vital signs like temperature or even a pulse?

      What I found touching was the way she carried the little one with such care.
      We are searching the stars for other intelligent life, and I like that,
      but we have it right here too.

      It was sad to see bit I wasn’t upset by it.
      Growing up with David Attenbourgh wildlife documentaries on the BBC
      prepared me for that, as anyone who saw the shocking monkey cannibal scene
      when it first aired may tell you. Still can’t watch that again to this day.

  52. justsaying says:

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  53. Anonymous says:

    There is a beauty in this film that we cannot miss. We are all creatures of the same Earth; we feel sorrow and happiness and need the comfort of one another to survive our time here.

  54. Laroquod says:

    I feel like I helped touch off this minor clusterfrak. Let me just clarified why I bothered to comment. Although I believe many species of animals have emotions, it bugs me a bit when I see people overinterpret videos that are really just playing on tendency of the human brain to always interpret emotion into a situation. The reason this bugs me is not because I want to see the interpretation that chimps don’t have emotions preserved. The reason it bugs me is that its a false logic that has too wide an applicability. If we accept that this video proves something about emotions, then mustn’t we also accept that a video of an insect hanging around another dead insect (perhaps out of curiosity? pheremones? who knows?) is also evidence of emotions?

    If it isn’t evidence, it isn’t evidence, and I just find it a bit dangerous to interpret it as such because of how that kind of evidence will end up being used iin other situations. It’s not that I have an issue with people believing that chimps have emotions in and of itself. I’m just a stickler for standards of evidence, that’s all.

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