Do monkeys eat their dead?

Answered by Willie Powers

Monkeys, like many other animals, have complex behaviors and emotions. They are known to exhibit various forms of social behavior, including grief, which is the process of mourning the loss of a loved one. While it is not uncommon for primates to engage in cannibalism, it is still a rare occurrence and has been observed in only a few instances.

In a recent study, researchers documented a Tonkean macaque, a type of monkey, consuming the remains of her deceased infant. This behavior, although shocking to us as humans, is not entirely unheard of in the animal kingdom. Cannibalism can sometimes occur in primates when they are under certain stressors, such as limited food availability or social disruption.

It is important to note that cannibalism is not a common behavior in primates and is typically considered an aberration. Primates, like humans, have a range of emotions and behaviors that are influenced by various factors, including their social structure, environment, and individual experiences.

Grief, on the other hand, is a more common and well-documented behavior in primates. When a member of their group dies, monkeys can display signs of mourning, such as increased vocalizations, altered social interactions, and changes in behavior. They may also engage in behaviors such as carrying or grooming the deceased individual, which can be seen as a way of processing their loss.

While cannibalism in primates is rare, it is important to understand that it is a natural behavior in some circumstances. It is not indicative of a general tendency for monkeys to consume their dead. The specific circumstances surrounding the Tonkean macaque’s behavior in the study should be considered before making any broad generalizations about primate behavior.

The observation of a Tonkean macaque consuming her dead infant is a grim reminder of the complexity of primate behavior. It highlights the fact that primates, like humans, are capable of exhibiting a wide range of emotions and behaviors, including both grief and cannibalism. However, it is crucial to approach these observations with caution and consider them within the broader context of primate behavior and ecology.