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A primatological perspective on death

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Abstract

Some questions that arise from observations of responses to dead and dying individuals by nonhuman primates are discussed, focusing on psychological issues. The phenomenon of transport and care of dead infants is reviewed, along with the consequences of the mother dying for orphaned offspring. It is argued that particular attention should be paid to how the context of a death affects individuals, for example, traumatic accidental or predation-induced death versus peaceful death following illness. Some primates kill others of their own or other species, which raises additional questions about death awareness and empathy. Observations from both the field and captivity can contribute toward a better understanding of the psychological meaning of death for primates. Some aspects of death awareness recognized by developmental psychologists might help guide research efforts in this area. Am. J. Primatol. 73:410–414, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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