Answer by Rory Young:
Here is what I have observed and learnt.
When a herd of elephants come across the bones of a dead elephant they will immediately stop feeding and become silent. It is as if they there is a deliberate solemnity in honour of their dead friend.
The quietly move among the bones with all signs of dominance or aggression removed from their body language, in fact clearly submissive in behaviour..
They will carefully smell along the surface of the bones almost but not quite touching them. It is as though they are caressing where the skin once was.Then they will pick up a bone and wander around or just stand holding it as though unsure of how to let go of it. Sometimes they will throw it down and then gently pick it up again, not wanting to be parted from the memory.
When my mother was dying I had to say goodbye to her over a telephone. I desperately wanted to be near her. I took a photo of her and piece of jewellery she had given me the last time I had seen her. When the grief came I would hold it. I see no difference between what I was doing and what the elephants do.
There are further examples throughout nature. One of the saddest things I have seen is a baboon mother with her dead baby. Unable to accept the terrible reality she would try to groom it or just sit holding and staring at it. This went on for days.
Fortunately or unfortunately life is both beautiful and terrible — for us and the animals. I believe they do it for the same reason we do, because it these experiences are almost beyond our ability to handle.
Here is a link to an incredible siteabout the gestures and communications of elephants including how they mourn.
Lastly, animals also grieve for their human friends…
Jack Russell "Squeak" lying with the body of his murdered master, Terry Ford.