Do gorillas cry? This is an interesting question and one that is very well-phrased however we need to understand the phrase crying? Crying is defined as the act of tears coming from the eyes and this is common among primates. Crying in most cases is an emotional expression, with or without feelings for example, of sadness, distress, or pain. Among human babies, it is used as a communicative signal intent to invite a caregiver or comfort.
Do other animals cry?
All mammals make distress calls, like when an offspring is separated from its mother, but Modern scientists believe the only animal to really break down in tears is us.
For the case of gorillas, crying as an emotional expression has used in the description of the different vocalizations especially at times when the infants are being weaned and separated from their mothers either temporarily or when they have to lose sight of the mother permanently due to death.
However, scientists normally try to avoid attributing interpretations of human behaviour when trying to understand the behaviour of other primates especially when it comes to emotions. Before researchers start researching about the emotions of these beautiful apes, some people used to deny that other primates have feelings. Most, however, take a conservative stand and say that it is too difficult to tell whether they do have feelings. Additionally, even when they have feelings, it is difficult to detect whether they are feeling anything similar to our feelings. Many scientists thus desist from using the word crying when referring to nonhumans, preferring to talk about distress vocalizations or describe the different sound they make.
In sum, if we define crying as tearful sobbing, then we know that humans are the only primates that cry. If we define crying as emitting vocalizations that co-occur with distressing situations, then we can conclude that most apes cry, especially as infants. If we are really asking whether humans are the only primates that feel sorrow, then we do not know the answer. Yet.
If you have undertaken an Africa safari to Uganda, Rwanda or Congo for a Uganda gorilla safari, a Rwanda gorilla safari or Congo gorilla safari, you must have witnessed that gorillas are social animals that live in groups. In recent years, researchers or scientists have gathered evidence to suggest that gorillas can be deeply affected by the death of a member of their group. Gorillas reach an extent of staging funerals for their member of the family. They grieve and as survivors, process the last funeral for their fellow.
What are some of the stories people have documented situations about how gorillas reacting to death?
Gorillas are very intelligent. They do have a deep capacity for emotion. There are various responses that range from curiosity to exploration to very clear distress that may happen around the body. It depends a lot on the individual’s relationship with the deceased one. Relatives may sit quietly at the body of the dead one, or touch the body quietly, or hold the hand of the body.
There is no such evidence for wild gorillas about their response to death. However, people that have been doing research have watched some of these reactions during their study. A very moving story about a silverback gorilla that lost its wife that had been sick for a long time. When she passed on, he went close to her, he was touching her, vocalizing and putting food in her hand, until he saw she was no more. He seemed to understand that this longtime friend was not moving. He began to really cry out, wailing, and he banged the ground in pain.
How do we know that gorillas have this deep capacity for emotion?
There’s a lot of loyalty. This male mountain and western lowland gorillas, in the wild, they can and do die protecting their families. There are very, very tender, maternal responses to infants.
This is often thought to be evolutionarily programmed, like the aggression or maternal love is programmed, but gorillas are so smart that they’re also thinking. It’s not all instinctual. They’re not on automatic pilot. They’re thinking and they’re feeling at the same time.
How do we know they’re thinking?
It can be noticed! There are really good published series of observations for example where gorillas have actually learned how to dismantle poacher traps. This shows they’re clearly thinking, step by step. There’s also a female gorilla who tested the depth of water of the swamp close to where they were by using a stick as a tool.
How do they deal with the death of gorillas living in the zoo?
After Gorilla has died, the body is whisked away by the caretakers. Experiments of them spending time with the body doesn’t really happen. My prediction would be that it can be very confusing to live for many years in an enclosure with another animal and then suddenly have that animal disappear. But if you think about it, gorillas are taken from zoo to zoo all the time. They’re being circulated among zoos mostly for healthy breeding. So it can happen that one day, you wake up and your companion of the last 10 years is gone. There’s no way to explain to a gorilla, “Your companion has gone to a zoo across the country.”
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