The idea that animals don’t have feelings is one of the most damaging notions in modern western society. Thankfully, those with half a brain cell know this to be categorically false.
It’s been understood for millennia that animals feel pain, and it’s clear that they feel fear, as they have sharp fight or flight instincts.
Those with pets such as dogs or cats will also know that animals can be either happy or depressed, just like we humans can, so the idea that creatures don’t feel is absurd.
Whether they experience complex emotions, on the other hand, is still up for debate.
For instance, do they feel grief or mourn their dead? We view this as a very human response to mortality, but we also see ourselves as separate from nature when in actual fact, we are nature.
So, it’s not too absurd to suggest that, say, a deer mourns their herd-mates when they go to deer heaven, but is this actually the case? Let’s explore this idea further.
Do Deer Feel Complex Emotions?
Arguably, all emotions are highly complex, So let’s just clarify at this early stage in our investigation that by “complex emotions”, I’m really referring to those that we see as fundamentally human.
These are the feelings assumed to be linked to our higher intelligence and advanced civilization. With that out of the way, on with the task at hand!
Scientifically speaking, there is no hard proof that any animals experience complex emotions, but that’s not to say that they don’t.
As you can imagine, this topic is remarkably tricky to research in any empirical manner, especially considering any studies that may help will likely involve a fair amount of animal cruelty.
In light of this, we simply can’t say for sure whether deer mourn their dead; however, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests these majestic creatures do indeed grieve for their fallen friends.
Why It’s Reasonable To Assume Deer Mourn Their Dead?
A prerequisite of developing feelings of grief is an awareness of death. This is something we humans know a little more about. Animals are aware of death.
Not only do they have an innate sense of mortality, they see death in action when their friends and family pass on in the wild.
So, deer do indeed have some sort of relationship with death, meaning they could potentially mourn their dead.
What Is Grief?
Next, let’s put the microscope on human grief for a moment. What exactly is it?
I’d suggest that it’s a deep yearning to have someone back who simply isn’t going to return, which is actually rather simple when you think about it.
Granted, all the pageantry that goes into dealing with the dead in human society won’t be seen anywhere else in the animal kingdom; we are uniquely complex in that way.
But, feeling sad that someone has departed for good is about as rudimentary as feelings get.
Loss and Confusion
We see countless pieces of evidence that the death of family affects all manner of animals a great deal. In fact, we don’t even need to venture into the wild to observe this.
Go to any dairy facility where they tear calves away from their mothers after only a few hours or perhaps even minutes, and you’ll hear both the mother and child cry out for one another until they don’t have the energy to cry out anymore.
This is a deathless example, but the same feelings of loss and confusion are present when mother and child are torn from one another as they are when a loved one passes on.
Are Deer Capable Of Mourning?
The dictionary defines mourning as the expression of sorrow at someone’s death, and there are a number of people out there who claim to have witnessed deer doing just that.
And if you feel that mourning is more about ceremony, whereas grief is more about feelings, there are also people who claim to have witnessed behavior in deer akin to very simple ceremonial acts when one of their herd-mates dies.
You’re not going to see them rocking up to their dearly departed in a black veil or anything overtly human like that, but visiting the location of the death is quite a common act among deer.
Those living in woodland areas have observed deer revisit the spots at the side of the road where their fellow deer passed on, long after the death, almost as if paying tribute or chasing the memory of their loved one.
While we can’t say for sure that deer mourn their dead, signs point to yes, reminding us that we’re not so far detached from the animal kingdom as we like to think.
We may have some rather elaborate conventions when it comes to death, but it would be nothing but arrogance to assume at least some animals don’t have their own way of saying goodbye to their loved ones.