Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Grief of an Emperor Penguin Mother Will Rock Your Soul

This video is the most moving I've seen in a long time; you can feel mom's pain.

Birds grieve too

This video of deep grief displayed by a mother Emperor penguin who lost her chick is one of the most moving I've seen in a long time (for more information on Emperor penguins please click here and here). I've previously written about grief in other animals and birds also can surely be included among the nonhumans who display grief and sadness at the loss of family and friends (see John Marzluff and Tony Angell's book Gifts of the Crow and their Psychology Today essays and also Barbara King's comprehensive book How Animals Grieve). 

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This video moved me deeply and my suggestion is that you spend a bit more than a minute and watch it and also rejoice in the support offered to the grieving mother by another penguin. Words can't adequately describe this short film but it leaves no doubt that the mother is deeply grieving her loss. You can hear, see, and feel her sadness. As time goes on grief is being observed in a wide array of captive and wild animals, not only in mammals, and it's arrogant to think we're the only animals who grieve the loss of family and friends

Why do animals grieve and why do we see grief in different species of animals? It's been suggested that grief reactions may allow for the reshuffling of status relationships, the filling of a reproductive vacancy left by the deceased, or for fostering continuity of the group. Some theorize that perhaps mourning strengthens social bonds among the survivors who band together to pay their last respects. This may enhance group cohesion at a time when it's likely to be weakened. 

Whatever the reasons, it's likely that grief evolved to serve different functions in different species. Whatever its value, grief is the price of commitment, that wellspring of both happiness and sorrow.

The teaser image can be seen here

Note: As I was writing this brief essay I came across a newspaper article called "How do animals grieve?" in which text, including direct quotes, written by me were freely used without any references. I only point this out because it would be wrong to credit whoever wrote it with having penned an original piece.  

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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