The mystery of animals facing death

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It is in your nature the dead are celebrated a few days early. What do animals do in the face of death? Are they aware of it? Some behaviors observed, especially among elephants, show that the death of one of them does not leave them indifferent.

This is a legend. The Elephant Graveyard, a place where pachyderms gather to die, was born from the imagination of 19th-century European explorers in Africa who discovered piles of elephant skeletons. ” Gradually, we realized that these carcasses no longer had tusks, and we now know that elephants are heavily hunted, recalls Emmanuelle Pouydebat, director of research at the National Museum of Natural History, in Paris. All these skeletons gathered in the same place are quite the result of a very vigorous hunt in which elephants were the prey. In Africa alone, there were more than 4 million pachyderms at the beginning of the 20th century, today there are more than 400,000. The cemetery of elephants is indeed a legend. Unfortunately, because the story is good… »

But the relationship with the death of the most magnificent terrestrial mammals remains particularly striking in the animal world. ” Elephants adopt quite remarkable attitudes when they see the dead body of one of their congenersdescribes Emmanuelle Pouydebat, author of several works devoted to animal behavior, the latest of which was published this week. Sexus animalusall tastes are in nature (Arthaud). These are behaviors rarely seen in the animal world. They will sniff the corpse, they will scream at it with their feet, they will really explore it. In particular the tusks, which are specific to each individual, and which elephants use to recognize each other. There are no flowers or wreaths, but elephants are sometimes observed covering a dead person with leaves and twigs.

Understand what happened

Among chimpanzees too, the death of one of them causes unusual reactions. ” They tend to explore the individual’s body, make him move, raise an arm and see that he collapses, as if trying to understand what happened. We also saw chimpanzees grooming a fellow creature in its bed. A layer in which no individual slept afterwards.

There is also no funeral ceremony for bees, but funeral directors are at work: whenever an individual dies, a worker is responsible for pushing his body out. A sanitary measure. It’s the same story with ants, some species go so far as to bury their dead. Even indulge in cannibalism. This is what researchers discovered in a former Soviet bunker in Poland. Ants, falling into it through an air duct, find themselves trapped there, living for years, by the millions. Because they ate their dead congeners.

“We cannot speak about funeral rites”

Cases of necrophilia have even been observed in crows, a bird that western culture associates with death. Some individuals have been seen attempting to perform a sexual act on a corpse. More often, crows have a habit of gathering around a dead congener. Is it a form of meditation? Rather, in reality, a way of identifying a risk.

It is really tempting to see in animals a mirror of human species, but researchers, like Emmanuelle Pouydebat, want to avoid any anthropomorphism. ” For some individuals faced with the death of one of their own, and in some species, there seems to be a real questioning, an exploration to understand what happened. They probably know that a change has taken place. But are they aware of death? Hard to say. And about the funeral rites, I’m not sure… Death, mourning, remains a mystery.

Is it summer in France?

With August temperatures these days, it was the warmest October ever recorded in France: 3.3 to 3.5 degrees above average compared to normal, a difference higher than that measured this summer. And now the plants bloom again; they really believe they are in spring. We saw chestnut trees blossom in the Bois de Vincennes in Paris, we harvested strawberries and tomatoes. In the south, the cicadas are heard singing, and the vines bear new leaves. An abnormality that can be compensated, even if scientists still lack insight. The plants get tired for nothing, because the frosts will eventually come. And in the end, there will be less fruit, less seeds and less plants.

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