I was witness to a distressing scene in the forest a few days ago. I came across this group of monkeys which I took to be a family group. The adult female grooming a younger monkey had only just arrived, trailing with her a dead infant. The infant seemed wet and at first I assumed it had drowned, but as I saw it more I thought that it was so small and thin that it had perhaps been stillborn only moments before.
I assume that the monkey receiving the grooming was a female since it was adult and so unlikely to be allowed in the group if it was male. The low body position in the first shot suggests submission, since it doesn’t look at all comfortable, and the bowed head in the second shot also looks as if this monkey is unhappy – but perhaps I am just applying a human judgment here. This position is repeated in the following sequential shots.
Notice how the female (mother) doing the grooming is also retaining ownership of the dead infant by placing her left foot on the body.
The grooming did not continue for more than a couple of minutes before the mother was left on her own with the dead infant.
In these few minutes the body had dried and the mother also moved it around as you can see by comparing the last two shots with the previous ones. And after a minute or so more, she set off on a frantic journey backwards and forwards that seemed to indicate that she was deeply distressed. I switched to video and shot three sequences, although she made at least two more changes of location that I was unable to keep up with.
The monkey which sits down with her in the last shot is almost certainly the same one she was grooming earlier and most likely a sibling or even an offspring. The mother trusts her as you can see when she does not react to the infant’s tail being picked up and sniffed. .
This distressed macaque disappeared into the undergrowth and I did not attempt to follow her. Unfortunately I was not able to pick out any distinguishing features she might have so I don’t know whether or not I have seen her again