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Grief-Stricken Mother Macaque Monkey Cradles Dead Baby (PICTURES)

12/05/2014 12:09 BST | Updated 12/05/2014 12:59 BST

These heart-breaking images show a mother macaque monkey tenderly holding her dead baby in her arms.

Wildlife photographer Andrew Walmsley captured the shots in Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Indonesia, and told how the tragic tableau unfolded.

He said: “I first saw the mother walking past me and noticed that she was clutching something to her chest, but that the legs were dragging against the ground, not gripping her belly.

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grieving macaque monkey

The grieving mother is believed to have kept the body of her baby by her side for two days

“As we got closer, another older female stood between us and barked at us a few times, which I took as a 'give her space' gesture - we waited a few minutes before following at a distance, then found her sitting amongst the others.

“Not long after we found her, she left the group and sat alone, cradling her baby, looking down at it and not moving for maybe 15 minutes. Occasionally she would actually hug him, groom him slowly then return to cradling him between her legs.”

The mother cradled her dead baby for a further two days before leaving him behind.

Walmsley, who had photographed the mother and her baby days before, added: “An older female came back to her and groomed her, and the mother didn't look up. A short while later, a young male approached and tried to touch her baby.

"But the mother bared her teeth and grabbed his wrist, thrusting it away time and time again. The older female was also baring her teeth in a protective manner, and he sat down next to her and didn't try and touch the baby again. A few minutes later he began to gently groom the mother, and she didn't look up again.”

grieving macaque monkey

The Sulawesi Crested Black Macaque is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

“Sadly we had to leave then, as our time was up, but she was still sitting in the same position as we left.”

According to researchers, macaque babies born to young mothers are more likely to die because their mothers are less experienced. Although the event is not uncommon, Walmsley doesn’t believe the experience of mourning has been captured on film before.

He said of the experience: “It was very hard to watch really. We were with her for about an hour, just sitting there watching her. It is a mother whose child has died, it’s almost irrelevant what species it is. You realise there’s so little difference between us and them when you see that kind of behaviour.”

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The Sulawesi Crested Black Macaque is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) due to hunting and habitat loss. Tangkoko Nature Reserve and National Park is the main stronghold for the remaining population.

The main threat to macaques is from humans hunting them for bush meat. The meat is considered a delicacy in Indonesia for special events like Christmas and Easter.

Walmsley hopes the images will help people to feel empathy with the macaques and sympathy with their plight.

He said: “It is images like this that hopefully give people an emotional connection and these macaques stop being a lump of meat covered in fur but become something we are emotionally concerned about.

“They look different to us but they are so similar we can understand what they are going through.”

Grieving macaque