Zoos are intended to be places where people can go to learn about unique and fascinating animals from all over the world -- but often they end up showing us that we're actually not so different after all. For over two decades, a female Lowland gorilla named Gorina and her partner Gyeoggi at a zoo in Seoul were the only animals of their kind in South Korea, that is, until Gyeoggi passed away last month at the age of 49. Since then, Gorina has been displaying such a profound sense of loss that the zoo's staff has yet to find a way to ease it -- further challenging our narrow constructs on how emotions are experienced in the natural world.Gorina and her lifelong partner Gorirong, transferred to Korea from Africa decades earlier, were the zoo's most popular attractions. In their 24 years together, the pair served to educate visitors about their dwindling species, the Western Lowland gorilla, one of the most critically endangered species on the planet. But since Gorirong died last month of natural causes, Gorina's bereavement has been teaching not merely on how primates look and act -- but on how they feel.
"Now that he is gone, though, Gorina is experiencing a deeper loss than we expected," says zoo staff.
According to South Korea's JoongAng Daily, the 33-year-old female gorilla has been showing some remarkable physical and psychological changes -- presumed to be evidence of depression following the death of Gorirong. Her fur has become rough and her behavior more aggressive. She reportedly spends days on end "gazing vacantly at the sky."
The zoo has tried their best to offer some comfort to the mourning Gorina, preparing for special meals for her and offering magazines and newspapers in hopes of getting her mind off the loss, but so far she remains inconsolable. She was even relocated into an enclosure with other animals, but had to be moved when she showed signs of violence.
"We all felt so sorry for her," says her keeper, Park Hyeon-tak. "Gorina's health is the most important thing right now."
As a new generation of biologists continue to explore the notions of some emotional commonalities between humans and especially other primates, it seems that the evidence of such is virtually indisputable -- which then raises a host of ethical questions. In recent years, the justification for keeping gorillas and chimpanzees in zoos have been challenged in courts of law, leading to the liberation of animals on the grounds of habius corpus.
Further still, the acknowledgment of our primate cousins as sentient beings could add some much-need impetus to global conservation efforts as a profound emotional toll on the animals themselves is counted among the tragedies resulting from poaching and habitat loss.
Ultimately, the feelings of sadness and sorrow being felt by Gorina, like with us, is in response to a life and death process that is truly natural. That same emotion, however, felt by a countless number of her wild peers amidst the destructive forces of human activity, is in response to something that isn't natural at all.
More on Emotions in Primates
Haunting Footage Reveals How Chimps Mourn Death
Chimpanzees Feel Death Like People - Are Even More Like Humans Than We Think
Chimpanzees Even Smarter Than We Thought - Can Mentally Measure Pouring Liquid's Volume