Farewell, old friend.
More than a dozen grief-stricken chimpanzees joined in an extraordinary expression of mourning as an elder in their family was laid to rest at a West African animal sanctuary.
Dorothy was in her late 40s, which is well into retirement age for a chimp, when she succumbed to heart failure.
As caregivers at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center bore her by wheelbarrow for burial, the typically boisterous apes rushed to the edge of their wired enclosure and fell silent.
They stood — wrapping arms around one another, resting on each other’s shoulder and not making a sound — as Dorothy’s female keeper adjusted her head in preparation for a final farewell.
The remarkable photo, which appears in the November issue of National Geographic magazine, was snapped by Monica Szczupider, who was working at the rescue center in eastern Cameroon.
She said Dorothy was a “prominent figure” among the extended family of about 25 chimps at Sanaga-Yong, and the sanctuary’s caregivers made sure the other apes witnessed her last rites.
“We brought her by wheelbarrow to let the others see,” she told the British newspaper The Sun.
The chimps, united in mourning, remained there as they watched Dorothy’s keeper give her a final, loving stroke on her forehead and then lowered her into the ground.
“It was unbelievably emotional. We were all struck,” Szczupider, 30, said.
The chimps already knew the meaning of deep personal loss.
All of those living at Sanaga-Yong had been orphaned when their mothers were killed by hunters. The chimps are prime targets in the illegal but widespread trade of providing African “bushmeat.”
The rescue center relies on foreign volunteers and 25 workers from nearby villages who serve as caregivers, as well as groundskeepers who maintain security for the chimps.
Szczupider said everyone at the sanctuary was deeply moved by what they saw at the burial. “Even the employees, a lot of whom grew up as villagers potentially eating apes,” she said.
The human onlookers also were stunned by how human the chimps could be.
“I think every last one of us was silenced by their silence,” Szczupider said.