An astounding report describes how a mother macaque at an Italian wildlife sanctuary ate her dead, mummified young. It really is as disgusting as it sounds. This piece does become a little graphic.
Evalyne, a Tonkean macaque, dwells in Italy’s Parco Faunistico di Piano dell’Abatino. The mother’s actions after her newborn son passed away after only four days were recorded in a report published in the journal Primates, headed by Arianna De Marco from Fondazione Ethoikos.
The outcomes were unexpected. Before starting to groom and carry the body of her deceased baby, the macaque first wept for two days while yelling at her reflection in the plastic door of the enclosure.
The authors stated in their report that “[d]espite the detectable stench from the body, she groomed and licked it repeatedly, giving particular care to the face.”
The body dried up after eight days, at which point it became mummified. The corpse’s skull fell off after six days, but Evalyne kept caring for it by lying it on her belly and combing it. She often carried it in her lips or in her hand.
According to De Marco, “the protracted travel would be witness to the mother’s connection to her baby.”
The situation then become rather bizarre. Evalyne was first observed devouring portions of the body and biting on its dry flesh on the 19th day. Despite the fact that the behavior has at least once before been seen in other macaque species, this is the first time a Tonkean macaque has been spotted devouring its deceased infant.
The baby’s body had completely dissolved by the 22nd day, but Evalyne continued to carry some of the remains about with her most of the time in her mouth or hand. On the 25th day, she was last saw holding a piece of the corpse—possibly an arm or leg bone.
The fact that the infant survived for a few days before passing away may have contributed to this behavior, however the authors are not quite sure what caused it.
According to De Marco, “the mother-offspring connection is perhaps the closest social link among primates. Such care may be understood as a continuation of maternal behavior that derives from the female’s hormonal condition and/or her attachment to her kid.”
This does not imply that monkeys have an understanding of death, but the mother’s anguish may have been exacerbated by the baby’s lack of reaction while it was still alive. The mother may have been trying to get the dead infant to suck by putting her fingers or tongue in its mouth.
It’s a wonder why she started eating it. The mother may have “lost any distinct image of what the mummified remains of her baby were” by the time cannibalism got started, though.
De Marco said it was not unnerving to watch, but rather “it was touching and interesting at the same time.”