Does a bear sulk in the woods?
Do animals, grieve? Love? Hate? Do they feel fear, rage, pride, remorse, happiness, shame, envy, jealousy, sadness and all those other emotions that add texture and confusion to our lives.
You betcha, Marc Bekoff says in his Psychology Today blog, Animal Emotions.
“There is no doubt that many animals experience rich and deep emotions. It’s not a matter of if emotions have evolved in animals but why they have evolved as they have,” he writes. “We must never forget that our emotions are the gifts of our ancestors, our animal kin. We have feelings and so do other animals.”
The piece goes on to present some compelling examples.
Sea lion mothers, watching their babies being eaten by killer whales, wail pitifully. Dolphins have been seen struggling to save a dead infant and mourn afterward. What appears to be grief has been observed in elephants when a member of the family, a non-relative, or even a member of another species succumbs.
Bekoff cites the case of Gana, a captive gorilla, clearly grieved the loss of her infant in the famous image of her carrying her dead baby. Jane Goodall observed Flint, a young chimpanzee, withdraw from his group, stop eating, and die of a broken heart after the death of his mother, Flo.
Gorillas are known to hold wakes for dead friends, Bekoff adds, recapping the story of a female gorilla, Babs, who died of cancer Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo ten years ago. Babs’ mate was observed howling and banging his chest, according to a zoo staff member, then picking up a piece of her favorite food — celery — putting it in her hand and trying to get her to wake up.
“Why do animals grieve and why do we see grief in different species of animals?” writes Bekoff , the author of “The Emotional Lives of Animals” and Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado. “… 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.
“Grief itself is something of a mystery, for there doesn’t seem to be any obvious adaptive value to it in an evolutionary sense. It does not appear to increase an individual’s reproductive success. Whatever its value is, grief is the price of commitment, that wellspring of both happiness and sorrow.”