What happens when a group member dies?

Only on very rare occasions have gorilla researchers been able to observe the behaviour of wild gorillas after a member of their group has died. Most frequently observed is how gorilla females react to the death of their infant. In many cases they carry the dead infant with them for days, occasionally even weeks, still grooming the dead body. It may be their strong maternal instinct that prevents them from abandoning the dead infant. Some researchers believe that the mothers cannot recognize for sure whether the infant is dead or just unconscious. Occasionally, other group members also take an interest in the dead baby.

When an adult gorilla dies, other group members show greater interest. If the dead gorilla is a female, other gorillas and particularly the dead female’s offspring will remain in the vicinity of the corpse for many hours. When a silverback dies, the whole group has a very clear reaction: the other group members often stay close to the dead male for a long time, observing and sometimes carefully approaching and touching or grooming the dead body. Adult males show display behaviour and give alarm vocalisations, which might be a sign of stress or an attempt to wake up the dead animal. In two cases (Tuck and Titus), the group spent the whole night in the vicinity of the corpse and remained there for several hours the following day.