For all who still wonder how deep an animal’s consciousness, awareness or capacity for emotion may run, look no further than a recent National Geographic story that’s been making the rounds. It’s about a chimp named Dorothy who had recently died in her late-40’s at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon…and a very compelling photo that says it all.
Dorothy’s mom was killed when she was young, then she was “sold into slavery” to some fucked-up West African amusement park. She spent 25 years – yes, 25 years – with a chain around her neck, tethered to a post in the ground. Ongoing activities included patrons teasing and provoking her, and watching as she was taught to entertain everyone by drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.
After ill-health starting catching up with her in 2000, she was eventually taken from this hell-hole and relocated to the rescue center. Once she had a chance to recover, her true nature began to surface, which, by all accounts, was saintly. She won over the alpha male of the group (named Jacky), became close friends with another amusement park survivor (named Nama), and even played momma to an orphaned chimp (named Bouboule). She was loved and admired by both her fellow chimps and human caretakers.
So…when she died of heart failure last September, it was a dark day around there. The management at the rescue decided to let all the chimps observe her burial, just so they could gain a sense of closure. As expected, many of the chimps responded with displays of aggression and “barks” of frustration. Unexpected, however, were the interludes of silence that hung in the air during the ceremony. This is very uncharacteristic of chimps, and a poignant reminder to us of their capacity for not only understanding the finality of death, but also the burning grief of loss.
This picture was taken during the burial.
Now, this is a group of chimps, in a safe, loving environment, watching in grief as their loved one is buried. We all know that pain. Grieving is a very natural and necessary part of the process of how we deal with death. But with this image in mind, can you imagine what it must be like for animals in slaughterhouses, laboratories, or kill shelters to have to witness what they witness?
And…as a society, do we really want to continue to bullshit ourselves into thinking that they aren’t “getting” what’s going on?
They get it.