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Is Animal Suicide Real Or Is There Another Explanation?

Posted: 04/ 4/2012 12:10 pm Updated: 04/ 4/2012 12:11 pm

Can animals actually commit suicide? Mass animal deaths and apparent animal suicides are not entirely uncommon, but experts remain uncertain as to whether animals posses the mental faculties needed to end their own lives deliberately.

Accounts of "suicidal" animals vary, but as Life's Little Mysteries explains, "the kind of abstract thinking [needed for suicide] is probably out of the range of animals." A researcher from the University of Manchester told the site, "Lacking the capacity to visualize and enact their own deaths, animals are seen to be driven by an instinct of self preservation."

While others argue that some animals deserve more credit for their cognitive abilities, self-destructive behaviors probably aren't suicide. Slate notes that some animals do have self-awareness and the ability to "speculate about the future," but "no one really knows which animals, if any, can combine these capacities to perform an act similar to human suicide."

Those who have witnessed self-destructive animal behavior personally may hold a different view. Dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry -- who was featured in the documentary "The Cove" -- became an activist after witnessing what he claims was a dolphin suicide in the 1960s, explained Time in 2010.

O'Barry argues, "The [animal entertainment] industry doesn't want people to think dolphins are capable of suicide, but these are self-aware creatures with a brain larger than a human brain. If life becomes so unbearable, they just don't take the next breath. It's suicide."

Even if it isn't suicide in the human sense, animals can and do engage in self-destructive behavior. Below, read about some of the most notable and mysterious alleged mass animal "suicides" in recent years.

Dogs Over The Bridge
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In the past fifty years, 50 to 600 dogs have jumped over Scotland's Overtoun Bridge and plummeted to their deaths. Several years ago, five dogs jumped in under six months. The Daily Mail has featured reports of horrified pet owners who walked their dog over the bridge and, without warning, saw their pet leap over the bridge falling 50 ft to the rocky bottom below. Perhaps even more disturbing, there are reports of "second timers" -- dogs who have survived the fall and jumped over the same bridge again.

Many theories have circulated about why dogs react this way to the bridge. Some suggest that the dogs are deliberately committing suicide, perhaps due to depression in their owners or even a supernatural force. More recent research suggests that it may be the scent of minks, an animal known to live under the bridge.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Filed by James Gerken  |