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One Minute of Silence

One Minute of Silence

  • Programmes Director at Luwire • Lugenda Wildlife Reserve

As human beings, we’re gifted with highly developed brain function which includes our ability to articulate speech and abstract reasoning. This essentially means the ability to express ourselves, understand and think in the absence of specific experiences or situations.

Grief, for example, is a natural human response to the loss of a loved one. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are mere attempts to process change. Feelings associated with grief in humans include sadness, worry, anxiety, frustration, anger and guilt. Detachment and isolation from others is a social expression of grief.

However, this feature is not exclusive to humans, as there is growing evidence that animals may share humans’ ability to reflect upon, monitor and regulate their states of mind. From chimpanzees to otters to sea lions, animals grieve just like humans do and is commonly recognizable by change in appetite, vocalization, habits, personality and grooming habits.

Elephants, which are among the most intelligent animals in the planet, seem to have complex death rituals. From covering their large bodies with leaves and branches, to taking interest in the bones of carcasses, these gentle giants seem to mourn deceased elephants even if they’re not related.

Primates generally, have complex social structures similar to those of humans and they too seem to mourn their dead. Chimpanzee mothers, often labelled as the most highly evolved species, seem to express grief by carrying their dead infants with them for months. Although scientists are not able to fully explain this behaviour, spending time with a dead member of the troop is a behaviour that we as humans are empathic to.

This phenomenon doesn’t occur only on land, several species of the marine mammals have been seen clinging to the body of a dead pod mate or relative. The most likely explanation for the animals’ inability to dispose of the corpses is grief. Smart and often sociable, marine mammals like whales, dolphins and orcas develop tight bonds with each other.

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Crows, one of my favourite animals, are also among the few animals that exhibit a social response to a dead member of their species. Although their cries may resemble broken hearts, gatherings around a deceased crow aren’t so much about mourning their fallen friends. By sticking close to a crow that was killed, other crows may improve their chances of learning about predators they need to avoid. ‘Funerals’ in this case, serve to assess danger and trigger anti-predator behaviour.

But very often, these bonds and grief modalities transcend species. In humans, the loss of a dog is painful because this symbolises the loss of a source of unconditional love, a companion who provides security and comfort. On the other hand, although dogs might not understand the full extent of human absence, they do understand the emotional feeling of missing someone who’s no longer a part of their daily lives. In fact, dogs don’t require death to express their discomfort with loss, when they’re apart from their owner or care takers, they often suffer from separation anxiety.

During a minute of silence, we remove our hats, bow our heads and show respect to our loved ones; humans and living creatures with whom we share the life cycle milestones of birth, growth, reproduction, and death.

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