Whew, this one makes me want to give up eating meat again. And maybe take a long shower. And watch some cartoons. No, not that kind. Some Care Bears or Dora the Explora something. Anyway, this story has got to be the weirdest and most horrifying nature story I’ve covered for MU so far. Primate researchers at the Parco Faunistico di Piano dell'Abatino, an animal sanctuary in Italy, were observing a a Tonkean macaque named Evalyne after she gave birth to a seemingly healthy baby. For four days, things between mother and baby were going well. Then things went into full-on nightmare mode.
Evalyne’s baby died on the fifth day of natural causes. Evalyne then went into a hysterical depression, screaming at her own reflection and staring listlessly into space for two days. Then, researchers saw her do something they’ve never before seen a primate do. Evalyne picked up her baby’s corpse and began carrying it around, grooming it, even holding it in her mouth. This continued even past the first week, after which the body became completely desiccated (dried out), essentially mummified.
On the fourteenth day, the baby’s head detached from the body, but Evalyne didn’t seem to mind too much. The head soon lost all of its skin and flesh, but Evalyne continued to groom it and lay it on her belly. On day 19, Evalyne began eating parts of her baby’s corpse. Within a few days, the corpse was in pieces scattered throughout the enclosure, but Evalyne was seen to always have at least one piece with her at all times. By day 25, the corpse was completely eaten.
The researchers who observed Evalyne's disturbing behavior published their case study in the journal Primate. According to their study, the researchers believe this to be an extremely rare case of a previously unknown behavior of macaques:
There is no indication that filial cannibalism in the mother Tonkean macaque was due to nutritional or social stress, and such a behavior could be considered as a normal, albeit rare feature of the behavioral repertoire of macaques. It is possible that by the stage of cannibalism the mother had lost any clear representation of what the mummified remains of her infant were.
Although it is believed that monkeys do not have a concept of death, Evalyne’s strange behavior certainly suggests that she knew something terrible had happened to her baby. But then, yeah... I don’t know what to think about the whole eating one's mummified baby part.
Other primates are known to cannibalize members of rival factions, but this case represents something more horrifying altogether. But should we be horrified? Should we force our own ideas about behavior and respect for the dead on animals? Who knows. I know one thing though: looks like I’ll be skipping lunch today.