A chimpanzee has been filmed cleaning the teeth of her dead son in a remarkable mourning ritual that was previously unknown to scientists.
The chimp approached the corpse of her son, selected a stem of grass and started to intently remove debris from in between his teeth.
Researchers said this behaviour could shed light on the evolution of the mortuary rituals practised by humans.
Scientists had previously observed her adopting Thomas, a nine-year-old male, who also lived at the orphanage.
‘Noel, a wild-born female chimpanzee living at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia, attended the dead body of Thomas, a nine-year-old male whom she adopted when his mother died four years earlier,’ the scientists from the University of St Andrews said in a research paper.
‘At the time of the reported observations, Noel was 33 years old.
‘She was brought to Chimfunshi when she was 14 years old, after spending most of her life at a private home in former Zaïre.’
The scientists said Thomas had most likely died from a combination of a viral and bacterial lung infection.