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Research published recently in the U.K. shows that chimpanzees behave just like humans when confronted with the death of a loved one.  The Journal Current Biology published two separate studies that document how chimps reacted to the deaths of others, in one case an elderly female chimp in captivity and in the other, the sudden deaths of babies.

While biologists tend to avoid attributing human standards and emotions to animal behaviours, the researchers were struck by the similarity to human reactions to the death of loved ones.  In a statement on one case, research leader James Anderson said: "In general, we found several similarities between the chimpanzees' behaviour toward the dying female, and their behaviour after her death, and some reactions of humans when faced with the demise of an elderly group member or relative, even though chimpanzees do not have religious beliefs or rituals surrounding death,"

The researchers studying the death of the elderly chimp (Pansy) observed that in the days leading up to her death, the group paid close attention to her, grooming and caressing her. After she died, members of the group appeared to check her for signs of life by lifting her arms and looking into her mouth.

Pansy - chimpanzeeThe young male attacked the corpse, in an attempt, the researchers said, to revive her, or in an expression of anger or frustration.

The group left soon after Pansy died, but her adult daughter returned and spent the night with her. The next morning, the chimps removed straw that was covering Pansy's body.

As zoo workers removed Pansy's body, the group sat quietly and watched. They avoided sleeping on the platform where she had died, even though it was normally the chimps' preferred sleeping spot.

"The findings we've described, along with other observations of how chimpanzees respond to dead and dying companions, indicate that their awareness of death is probably more highly developed than is often suggested," said Anderson.

"Science has provided strong evidence that the boundaries between us and other species are nowhere near to being as clearly defined as many people used to think," he said.

If chimps behave just like humans, then it's clear that our behaviour around death is not because of a religion - it's better described as an instinct.  This would then suggest that religion is the result of this instinct and not the cause of our behaviour.  Unless of course someone would like to suggest that chimps have a soul?  And is the soul connected to our instincts?

More details here CBC News