More than 70 years after its release, Bambi is still a ubiquitous movie. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’re likely aware of it. It’s about a young deer, but it’s far from a light-hearted tale. An entire generation was scarred by the scene where Bambi’s mother was shot by a hunter, ultimately leading to her death. While the movie shows young Bambi mourning his mother, many people wonder … do deer mourn their dead in real life too?
There is still a lot of debate on this topic. This is because it is difficult to conduct broad studies on the topic, so most of the evidence is anecdotal or regarding other animal species.
In this article, we’ll discuss how animals, including deer, mourn for their dead.
Do Animals Have Feelings?
The simple answer is yes. Animals feel pain. They also innately have a flight or fight instinct, which is rooted in fear.
Now the question is, do their feelings extend to human-like emotions, such as grief?
Scientists argue that there is no scientific basis for this, but observers of wildlife can attest to having observed grief in deer.
So, Do Deer Mourn Their Dead?
Animals do feel emotion and are aware of death. But what about deer specifically? Do deer mourn their dead or grieve?
The short answer is yes, probably. There is not enough research on the topic to say for sure, but careful observers have noted behavior in deer that indicates a sense of loss following the death of a member of their herd.
A Real World Example
Deer increasingly come in contact with people. It is not uncommon for deer to be struck with cars while crossing the street. You’re likely aware of this if you live in woodland areas or places where deer often cross the road. You might have even been able to watch a deer’s grieving process yourself.
When a deer is injured, the animal will more or less stay in place after getting out of the way of traffic. From there, it is often a matter of waiting. Most deer travel in groups called herds and during this time members of their herds may even come for a visit.
After death has occurred, members of the herd have been observed coming back to the place of death for the fallen member, almost in a commemorating manner, before moving forward with their daily activities.
How Do Other Animal Species Deal With Death?
Observers of animal behaviors have recorded patterns in behavior among different species and the ways in which they react to death of their kin.
We’ll include some of these behaviors here, as they provide some research-backed evidence of grief in animals.
This hopefully provides some context to the question of whether deer mourn their dead.
Chimpanzees have been known to take on different activities surrounding the death of another chimpanzee. This leads researchers to believe that they are aware of what has happened.
In one case, a chimpanzee was observed cleaning the corpse of its fallen kin. In another, the chimpanzee was seen avoiding the death site.
Now, this finding still leaves many skeptical because of how similar chimpanzees are to humans in terms of DNA. But we can also take a look at other patterns in development among different species such as elephants and magpies.
Elephants are known to take on post-death rituals of their own.
After a matriarch dies, researchers have found that elephants preserve the bones of the deceased, which later on play a huge part in recurring rituals wherein the elephants touch the bones of the dead in a specific pattern or manner.
Magpies under observation have also shown behaviors related to mourning.
Some studies found that they actually bury their dead.
While this isn’t carried out in the same way humans do, they show similar patterns by burying the dead under twigs, grass, and other materials found in the area of the place of death.
The Scientific Take on Animal Grief
Surprisingly, many in the scientific community are skeptical of the idea that animals experience a sense of grief or loss.
For animal lovers, the idea that animals have feelings is a no-brainer. We’ve all probably seen photos of a dog laying at the grave of its master, or acting depressed following the loss of a household canine companion.
But for scientists, it’s a bit more complicated.
On the broad spectrum of animal science, there are different fields that look into animal behavior. Along the spectrum is the field of bioethics, which searches for common ground between science and ethics. This field of scientific study seeks to answer the question of where animals fall as scientific beings or moral characters.
Final Thoughts About Grief or Mourning in Deer
All in all, we can conclude that animals, including deer, do feel emotions. And among those emotions is grief for their dead.
Deer exhibit behavior that indicates they do mourn the loss of members of their herd. Whether by changes in demeanor, animal funerals, or visiting the death site — each species has their own method of handling loss in their community.
However, scientific basis for the anecdotal evidence of deer grief is still inconclusive. As our understanding of ourselves and other animals increases, we’ll likely gain a firmer grasp on the unique ways creatures mourn and grieve their dead.