Death is a part of life, as everyone was repeatedly reminded in 2016. And with death comes grief, one of the worst emotions experienced by anyone.
More tragic is how people observe grieving among animals, but many will discount accounts of mourning as anthropomorphism. Elephants have been seen tearing up when faced with death. When wild herds stumble upon the remains of other elephants, they’ll pick up the bones and caress them, as if wondering if this was someone they knew in life. Crows also hold funerals for their fallen comrades. Chimps arrange wakes for their fallen friends. Finally man’s best friend also mourn their canine and human friends, often holding vigil beside their bodies.
Recently a cow herder by the name of Wagner Figueiredo de Lima was killed in a motorcycle accident in Brazil, leaving behind his family and beloved stallion Sereno. Sereno was brought to the funeral and many in attendance could tell the horse was truly grieving for his best friend. Wagner’s brother Wando noted, “This horse was everything to him, it was as if the horse knew what was happening and wanted to say goodbye” after watching Sereno pound his hooves, whimper, sniff the casket, and lower his head against it. Japanese photographer Kiyoshi Abreu was also in the audience, remarking, “The horse knew what was happening, he knew his best friend had gone” in addition to capturing the following heartwrenching images.
Horses are known to grieve for other horses, best illustrated by Dr. Ella Bittel’s anecdote about an Appaloosa named Shilo.
Shilo, a 35-year-old Appaloosa mare, had never been too friendly with the two geldings she had lived with for many years. Yet when the day arrived for her planned euthanasia, Jimmy and Colonel became upset as the mare was led away from the pasture they had inhabited as a trio for so long.
A gravesite had been prepared on the large property and after Shilo quietly took in the view of the sunshine-filled valley one more time, the euthanasia was performed out of sight of the geldings.
All the while, both geldings were running up and down the fence line, calling out loudly. Jimmy slowed down after a little while, but Colonel continued, his distraught whinnying shattering the silence of the surrounding hills.
Usually it’s humans who mourn the loss of their equine friends but to the best of my knowledge, and several minutes of googling, this is the only instance where a horse mourned their human. While there is no scientific consensus on the internal, subjective lives of horses or other animals, to declare humans are the only living beings who have profound emotions is the pinnacle of arrogance.
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