Last week the Internet and European news outlets were flooded with poignant photographs of Gana, an 11-year-old gorilla at the Münster Zoo in Germany, holding up the body of her dead baby, Claudio, and pursing her lips toward his lifeless fingers.
Claudio died at the age of 3 months of an apparent heart defect, and for days Gana refused to surrender his corpse to zookeepers.
Nobody knows what emotions swept through Gana’s head and heart as she persisted in cradling and nuzzling the remains of her son.
But primatologists do know this: Among nearly all species of apes and monkeys in the wild, a mother will react to the death of her infant as Gana did — by clutching the little decedent to her breast and treating it as though it were still alive.
Everywhere in nature, biologists say, are examples of animals behaving as though they were at least vaguely aware of death’s brutal supremacy and yet unpersuaded that it had anything to do with them.