An eight-year-old boy’s motion-activated camera captured a group of peccaries, or skunk pigs, seeming to be mourning one of their dead.
Footage of peccaries mourning one of their deceased [Video by New Scientist]
Early this year, eight-year-old Dante de Kort came across the remains of a dead peccary near his Arizona residence. It just so happened that he also had a science project for school to do, so he set up a motion-activated camera near the carcass. The camera, gifted to him by his grandparents, stayed pointed at the carcass for several days, giving us an unprecedented view into these animals.
Peccaries are medium-sized carnivorous animals that are often mistaken for pigs. However, peccaries are native to the Americas, while pigs are Afro-Eurasian in origin. Even so, peccaries have snouts and walk only on their two middle digits, much like pigs.
While mourning has been observed in various animals, it has not been observed to happen in all three species of peccaries. However, de Kort’s video may have just discovered something new about these pig-like animals.
Elephants mourn the death of one of their young. [Video by Barcroft TV]
Animals such as elephants, dolphins, apes, and ravens have all been observed to have expressions of grief or mourning periods over dead members of their herd or species. These discoveries and observations of mourning in animals have of course been groundbreaking. They showed that perhaps, mourning the death of someone you know isn’t a uniquely human ability.
What, however, does mourning in animals look like? Mourning seems to happen in different ways, depending on the species. Biologist Mariana Altrichter says that the scientific definition for mourning is any act done to come to terms with a loss. Altrichter thinks that the video footage of the peccaries does indeed depict mourning.
De Kort and Altrichter published a paper detailing the events captured in the footage. Altrichter has studied peccaries for years, and is well-versed in the close-knit social ties between members of the species. However, seeing the video was the first time that Alrichter saw this kind of behavior among peccaries.
Altrichter noted that the peccaries didn’t just stop at the dead peccary’s corpse before moving on. The “mourning” went on for 10 days, in which the peccaries nuzzled, bit, sniffed, and stared and the corpse. The peccaries also tried lifting the corpse with their snouts, and even chased off a group of hungry coyotes.
After 10 days, however, the coyotes were finally able to drag the corpse off. De Kort was surprised when the peccaries chased off the coyotes, noting that the coyotes outnumbered the grieving peccaries. Peccaries are known to be social animals that form tight-knit groups, but this behavior hasn’t been observed and recorded before.
“The behaviours of this herd of peccaries resemble those of humans, cetaceans, chimpanzees, and elephants and show that these groups are not the only ones that react to death,” de Kort and Altrichter wrote in their paper.
Other experts also agree that the behavior depicted in the video is likely to be mourning. Barbara King, author of How Animals Grieve, thinks that sleeping next to the corpse and the persistence of mourning over 10 days are the things that may characterize the behavior as grief.
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