An interesting bit on mortality in non-human mammals…
Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:
I doubt there’s an organismal biologist alive who hasn’t wondered if some other species of animals know of their own mortality, and if so which ones. I’ve always thought it was the great and unique tragedy of the human species that we alone know that our own lives are finite. That of course, has given rise to all sorts of peculiar behaviors, including much religious doctrine.
Not having access to the consciousness of any creature except H. sapiens, we’re not sure. Certainly some animals act as if they understand death: dying chimps are surrounded by what looks to be caregivers, elephants fondle the bones of other elephants, and mother primates can cling to dead infants for days. I even once saw a squirrel dragging the carcass of another squirrel across the quad of my university, but had no idea what that meant. But none of these acts mean that these creatures conceive of death the way humans do. A piece at New Scientist, discussing the behavior of a mother gorilla and her dead infant, said this:
It could be grief, but it could equally be a morbid fascination with death. Or it could just be confusion.