We are probably never more human than we are when we confront the fact of death. Whether it’s the reminder of our own coming death or the loss of a loved one that causes the reflection, there is little more profound than the moment of gathering to mourn. In order for a death to be mourned, the community around the dead member must be complexly organized socially; mourning marks not so much a physical death as it does the social death that comes with it. What does non-human intelligence look like if we consider not the ability to work with tools or recognize oneself, but the recognition of loss through death as its ultimate sign? The data on bird mourning seem inconclusive, but many species certainly do react to death beyond a simple acknowledgement of danger. A wild and horrifying example is this seven minute video depicting Australian raven circling a fellow who was dying after being hit by a car: “Australian ravens mourning member's death (amazing footage)”
Maybe they aren’t mourning, of course; maybe they want to save her, maybe they are assessing the danger, or maybe they’re just confused. None of those reactions, however, strike me as all that different from human behavior surrounding death: denial, anger, bargaining. All mourning behavior comes from assessing the danger of death, from confusion over its nature—mourning is human, mourning is animal.