Can animals really commit suicide? While experts remain uncertain about whether they have the capacity to perform an act similar to human suicide, those who have personally witnessed self-destructive animal behavior may hold a different view. Check out some of the most fascinating cases.
1The Dolphin that got Depressed and Just Stopped Breathing
Over 40 years ago, Dolphin trainer Richard O'Barry watched Kathy, a dolphin in the 1960s television show Flipper, kill herself. Or so he says. "She was really depressed... You have to understand dolphins and whales are not [involuntary] air breathers like we are. Every breath they take is a conscious effort. They can end their life whenever. She swam into my arms and looked me right in the eye, took a breath and didn't take another one. I let her go and she sank straight down on her belly to the bottom of the tank," said O'Barry.
The experience transformed him into an animal rights activist for life and made him a celebrity after his role in "The Cove," an Oscar-winning documentary about it.
2Mass Suicide: The 450 Sheep that Jumped from a Cliff in Turkey
In 2005, it was reported that nearly 1,500 sheep jumped to their deaths from a cliff in Turkey. The stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as 450 animals died, falling on top of one another in a billowy white pile. Those that jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall became more cushioned.
3The Newfoundland Dog that Repeatedly Attempted Suicide Until He Succeeded
In 1845, the Illustrated London News reported a "Singular Case of Suicide" involving a "fine, handsome and valuable black dog, of the Newfoundland species." The dog had been acting less lively than usual for days, but then was seen "to throw himself in the water and endeavor to sink by preserving perfect stillness of the legs and feet."
The dog was rescued and tied up. However, as soon as he was released he entered the water again and tried to sink himself. This occurred several times until, at last, the dog appeared to tire and "by dint of keeping his head determinedly under water for a few minutes, succeeded at last in obtaining his object, for when taken out this time he was indeed dead."
4The Bears that Starved Themselves to Death to Escape the Misery of Their Captivity
In 2012, a bear who had been refusing food for ten days finally starved herself to death, according to reports. Animal rights campaigners claim that they have witnessed many other bears doing the same thing in the last couple of years in China.
Some bears are kept inside very small cages by the Chinese, who harvest their bile, a digestive juice stored in the gall bladder which is prized in traditional Chinese medicine. An estimated 12,000 bears are kept in captivity in China and Vietnam.
The bile is removed from the bear by inserting a catheter tube through a permanent incision in the abdomen and gall bladder. Sometimes, a permanently implanted metal tube is used. The painful process is generally carried out twice a day.
5The 61 whales that Beached Themselves in New Zealand
In November 2011, a pod of 61 whales beached themselves at Farewell Spit in New Zealand. It was not clear why the whales did it, but one theory holds that when a sick individual heads to shore to die, the others follow. Only 18 survived.
6The 28 Cows and Bulls that Threw Themselves Off a Cliff in the Alps
In August 2009, 28 cows and bulls threw themselves off a Swiss cliff over the course of three days. While cows do occasionally fall to their deaths in these Alpine regions, it is rare for so many to fall in one particular place in such a short span of time.
According to local reports, there had been violent thunderstorms in the area which may have spooked the animals. In each case, local mountain rescue services had to use a helicopter to remove the bodies because of the danger of polluting the local groundwater.
7The Insects that Sacrifice Themselves to Protect Others
According to a paper that appeared in Nature in 1987, the Acyrthosiphon pisum, a sap-sucking insect commonly known as the pea aphid, has been known to explode itself in order to protect its surrounding relatives from predators such as the ladybug, thereby sacrificing its life. It's "the first convincing evidence in support of the host suicide hypothesis."