Hot on the heels of our exclusive last week - Ape research points the way to origin of religion - comes the results of yet more studies supporting the hypothesis that apes may be evolving their own religion.
In one study a group of scientists from Stirling University reported how, following the death of a terminally ill female member of their troop called Pansy, a group of chimpanzees at the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park in Stirlingshire were observed 'paying their last respects' in an 'uncannily human way'.
The scientists reported that in the days leading up to Pansy's death the whole troop became much quieter than normal and stayed with her at nights, obviously keeping her company, carefully grooming her and making soft 'cooing' noises, quite unlike their normal shrieks and screams.
On the night that Pansy finally died, her daughter spent the whole night at her side, gently holding the dead chimp's hand. Other troop members meanwhile kept their distance from the pair only approaching the daughter briefly to give her a reassuring hug, before quietly retreating back to a 'respectful' distance.
James Anderson, the leader of the Scottish research team, said, "It was an amazing sight which brought tears to the eyes of several researchers. Even Malik, the bacon averse chimp whose behaviour we reported on last week, stopped his usual aggressiveness, simply sitting some way from where Patsy's body lay, mournfully wailing and gently beating his chest. We can only hope this is the beginning of a new 'religion of peace' for him."
Another link to human 'death rituals' came on the day following Patsy's death. The troop were seen picking daisies and dandelions, growing wild in their grassed enclosure, before taking them and carefully placing them around the motionless body.
The troop's 'alpha' male subsequently gathered the other chimps around him in what can only be described as some sort of 'funeral service'. "The only notable difference we could see between the alpha male's behaviour and that of a human priest was that the chimp refused all forms of 'reward' for this service" said Dr Anderson.
"Although many chimps offered various types of fruit to the alpha, he simply passed them onto the immature members of the troop who, although copying the reverential behaviour of their elders, obviously did not understand the full significance of what was happening and seemed distressed by the strange activities they were witnessing."
"Perhaps, given his disinterest in 'financial' gain, our religious leaders can learn something about the meaning of 'unconditional' love from this alpha's behaviour!."
Apparently a little 'put out' by the findings of the research, religious leaders were quick to respond with their own take on the chimps' behaviour.
A spokesman for 'Answers in Genesis' said, "We are not impressed. Quite obviously the chimps put the flowers around the dead Patsy to cover the smell, another example of God's brilliant design. Additionally, a coincidental 'meeting' after a death proves nothing. Only God's greatest creation, man, has a soul and only man can appreciate the 'gift' of death that God gave us. To suggest otherwise is simply preposterous."
One senior Hindu leader was similarly unimpressed, "Our investigation didn't find any similarities to human death rituals. Despite the fact that we left matches, firelighters and a can of petrol in the African bush, the chimpanzees living there didn't once try to set light to a body. Unless scientists are so desperate they are going to count the time one young chimp burnt his fingers whilst playing with the matches." he sneered.
Catholic leaders were a little more hesitant in their condemnation of the research. While they agreed there were some superficial similarities to human behaviour they said that:
"Without a solid understanding of the wealth generation possibilities resulting from death, or more importantly the fear of death, and without modern marketing techniques to guide them, apes will never be able to produce anything approaching the 'well oiled machine' that is the Catholic church. We aren't, as yet, worried by the competition."