The emotional mourning of Natalia, the chimpanzee who has been carrying the body of her dead calf for 3 months

The emotional mourning of Natalia, the chimpanzee who has been carrying the body of her dead calf for 3 months
The emotional mourning of Natalia, the chimpanzee who has been carrying the body of her dead calf for 3 months

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A case that shocked the world is that of the chimpanzee Natalia, who has been carrying her dead baby for 3 months: This is the second time she has lost a calf.

She gave birth at the beginning of last February and everything seemed to be going well at the Bioparc, a zoo in the city of Valencia, Spain. But literally From one day to the next, the calf “weakened very quickly and died.”.

“We don’t know the exact cause, but it seems that the mother was not producing enough milk,” he explains to BBC World the director of the Bioparc, Miguel Casares.

Since death, the 21-year-old chimpanzee has not wanted to separate herself from her baby’s body. She has been carrying it with her for more than three months while she goes about her daily routines.

“He doesn’t let go of her at any time. This is a described behavior, which can occasionally happen in female chimpanzees with babies that die when they are just a few days old, in the zoo and in nature,” explains Casares, who is a veterinary expert.

Mothers have been known to carry their young for up to four months. “It doesn’t always happen, but occasionally a female can carry a dead calf for a few days or sometimes a few weeks, as well as in this case a few months,” says the director of the Bioparc.

Those responsible for the zoo have chosen to favor a natural shedding process

In all this time, zoo visitors have seen the mother with the calf in what is perceived as a duel. It has caused reactions of all kinds.

“The first few days you could clearly see that it was a baby and that it was dead. Everyone was surprised… We have noticed a reaction of very, very strong empathy towards the situation. Empathy and respect,” says Casares.

The calf has gone through a natural decomposition process and in The zoo has made sure that this does not cause health problemsto be able to allow Natalia a gradual separation until she feels ready.

The chimpanzee already lost a calf in 2018 and on that occasion he got rid of it in a few days.

This time it has been different. As with other primates that live in natural or controlled environments, the chimpanzees at the Valencia Bioparc are a very sociable and united family.

In the first days they were very close, they hugged each other. It was quite an impressive thing to see. because we assimilate it to what could happen to people, it is a very close situation to us,” explains Casares.

After a while, the rest of the chimpanzees – of the pt verus subspecies, one of the most endangered in the world – continued with their normal routines.

But Natalia chose not to get rid of the baby’s body.

In the Bioparc chimpanzee group there are currently six adults and two babies

Zoo experts evaluated the situation and decided to let her process continue as it was best for her. And furthermore, intervening to remove the body would have involved complicated and even risky work.

“The group is always together. So, if we had wanted to anesthetize the mother to remove the calf, we would have surely had to anesthetize several members of the family,” says the director of the Bioparc.

“And we had another female, who is her sister, who had a small calf, which would have put the other calf at risk with that action. “We never thought about that option.”

For specialists, who have already seen similar situations, it was the best route to follow.

Today the chimpanzee Natalia carries out her daily activities with relative normality. She has not shown health problems, like the other chimpanzees, due to having the body of her dead baby next to her during these months.

“We have been monitoring the health status of the adult animals and we have not seen any problems. But of course the calf has gone through a phase of decomposition. It is a natural process. But Chimpanzees have, fortunately, a very powerful immune system.”explains Casares.

If necessary, zoo specialists could intervene, but they have favored the mother assimilating the situation naturally for her own well-being.

Visitors have reacted with empathy upon learning of Natalia’s situation

Casares emphasizes the fact that, despite being in a controlled environment, the chimpanzees at this zoo are not domesticated animals or pets.

What happens to them follows patterns that have been seen in other natural or controlled environments.

“It also happens in nature, not only in chimpanzees, it is also described in other sociable primates, great apes, baboons, elephants, animals that are always very intelligent and with a very strong relationship between mother and offspring and with very complex family behavior,” points out.

“[En el zoológico] There are not only young animals and pretty babies that play. Death is also part of life and sometimes animals die”.

Although it is striking and may even impress some people, especially the little ones, members of the zoo have been present at the site to give the pertinent explanations of what has happened.

“The vast majority to whom it has been explained have understood it, They have shown empathy and respect for a mother who is in the process of grieving the loss of a child.”.

What has happened to Natalia is rare, but not unusual in chimpanzees and other primates

By Dario Brooks

BBC World

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