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Original author: 
Jeffrey Kluger

For Jeffrey Kluger’s feature on animal grieving in this week’s issue, TIME reached out to noted animal photographer Charlotte Dumas, who has been making deeply empathetic portraits of a variety of species for years.

If animals nurture their own (which they do) and care about their kin (they do that too) why would we not assume they mourn their dead? A growing group of researchers are coming to the conclusion that animals not only grieve, but in some cases grieve deeply. That’s an easy case to make by simple observation, but not in any other way. When you’re working with animals, there’s no possibility of the self-reporting that is so central a part of studies of human psychology. But when it comes to the beasts, those observations might be enough.

There are the elephants that hold what appear to be wakes for their dead — hovering over them as they die and coming back for a week or more to mind and tend the remains. There are the crows that similarly circle a fallen flock-mate and will bring twigs in seeming tribute and even cover the remains with grass. Dogs and cats will wander their homes looking for a lost littermate or playmate and often sink into what looks for all the world like the lethargy and lack of appetite that are the hallmarks of human depression. Bonobo and baboon mothers will carry their dead babies for weeks after they’ve died — and dolphin mothers will similarly push their lost young along through the water.

Studies of brain and blood chemistry — to they extent they exist for animals — confirm that something like a grief reaction is taking place. Baboons exhibit an uptick in hormones that lead to stress and later affiliation when a member of the troop is killed by a predator, and this is especially so among the friends or close social companions of the victim. Crows show stress reactions in the amygdala, just as humans do, and that response would likely be more acute if a mate died, particularly since crows may pair off for 20 years — longer than a lot of human marriages.

(Read more: The Mystery of Animal Grief )

In all animal research there is the ever-present risk of anthropomorphism. We refract their behavior through the prism of our own because that’s what we know best. But here it makes sense. All of the beasts — humans included — exist on a sort of continuum of intelligence, emotion and social complexity. Just because we’re at the top of that heap, doesn’t mean that the beasts below us don’t have experiences to ours — even if they’re briefer, blunter, simpler. Animals are social creatures and they’re also sentient creatures. The pain of death is likely not something they’re spared.

Charlotte Dumas is a photographer based in Amsterdam. Her latest book,
Anima, features the burial horses of Arlington Cemetery.

Jeffrey Kluger is an editor-at-large at TIME, oversees the magazine’s science, health and technology reporting.

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Treading carefully across the loose stones of the expansive Karoo region of South Africa, photographer Daniel Naudé approached his elusive subject with the cunning of a predator. Through wind, rain and waning light, he tracked the skittish, feral Africanis, a wild breed of dog, that runs freely across the terrain.

“Captivity and freedom were the forces that emerged after my first encounter with the Africanis dog,” said Naudé, 28, discussing some of the themes stitched into his work in Animal Farm, his newest book of photography. “This [encounter] led to many road trips, running after dogs in the veld while discovering how best to portray them.”

The book, which features images of the South Africa’s animals and their human kin, engages the viewer in a meditation on the connectedness of humankind and the animal world. Because of this connection, Naudé decided to name his project after George Orwell’s classic treatise. Like Orwell, Naudé’s prodding questions about the relationships between human and beast suggest an unsettling answer: that you never quite know which one you are.

Animal Farm started with a weekend road trip from South Africa to Mozambique in late 2006. Naudé and a friend found themselves rolling through the Northern Cape when a lanky, Africanis dog slunk across the road. The dog’s eyes met Naudé’s, and in that moment, set in motion a fascination with these illusive and inspiring animals, he said.

“I was always interested in how people lived with domesticated and livestock animals, and the way that the histories of people and animals overlapped in the landscape,” said Naudé, who spent the next five years traveling across the country, sleeping in police stations, the homes of welcoming strangers and even his car, while tracking his wild subjects.

Over time, Mr. Naude’s own life started to mimic that of the Africanis.

“Time is not your own when you are working with nature,” said Naudé, remembering the long days in search and the long nights in wait. But the freedom of travel and experience of the hunt also exposed him to region’s rich history and the people who would become part of his final project.

This expeditionary spirit is what imbued Naudé with a hunger for discovery reminiscent of past explorers. Most noticeably, he said he was motivated by British artist-explorer Samuel Daniell who set out from Cape Town in 1801 to catalogue the landscape, people and animals. In this same fashion, Animal Farm quickly became more than mere images of the Africanis because it engaged with the sociological and visual landscape of South Africa.

“Photographing the animals in these landscapes reinforced these ideas of human control, our need to rule, and our fear of the untamed,” he said. The images captured a rawness and sense of contest between man and animal, a feeling strengthened by Naude’s decision to position each dog above the horizon in his frames — a device intended to communicate power and force to the viewer.

In a country scarred by the experience of apartheid, Animal Farm suggests a desire for reconciliation. The Africanis, an animal viewed derisively for its exotic and mixed heritage, serves as symbol, emblematic of the disdain shown to the previous generations considered inferior in South Africa. Importantly, Naudé said his work resists asserting the superiority of either human or beast, but instead argues that “human and animal are equally corrupt.”

“I wanted to portray my subject as a reflection on the complexities and diversities in our country,” he said, when asked what he hoped people could take away from these photographs. “I point my lens to these animals so that we can question, challenge and finally learn to relate.”

Daniel Naudé’s ‘Animal Farm’ was published in late 2012 by Prestel.

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To shoot this week’s TIME cover story about animal friendships — which you can read here — photographer Catherine Ledner called on years of experience of hanging out with cute critters, including her work on two books of animal photography, Animal House and Glamour Dogs. But this shoot offered something new, even for the animal pro. Most of Ledner’s work involves pictures of singular animals, while TIME’s portfolio features animal pairs. “I had to make sure that the dogs that were coming were actually friends,” she says.

With that criterion in place, Ledner found that shooting pairs of animals was no more difficult than shooting them one at a time. Like human models, the animals brought their own personalities to the set and Ledner was able to capture the interplay of those forces. Also like human models, the animals brought entourages (a.k.a. trainers) who kept the stars focused on the task at hand—and who conveniently stepped aside when Ledner wanted to let her subjects off the leash, so to speak.

But unlike human models, the animal managed to make the group shots look effortless. “If you’re shooting a group of people, you have an agenda of who you want looking in the lens and who you don’t,” Ledner says. “To get everyone to look good at one time is harder than it is, I think, when you have a bunch of animals.”

Which is not to say that the photographer’s sessions with her animal models were all fun and games. Ledner—who owns three dogs, two cats and four rabbits, but does not frequently photograph her own pets—says that animal photography requires putting cuddliness aside. While people may get relaxed and happy with background music and a festive mood, quiet is important to help a dog (or a bird or a rabbit, as the case may be) maintain his concentration. Luckily, almost all of the animals that participated in TIME’s cover shoot were seasoned professionals. One dog named Billy had sat for Ledner twice in the past. The only non-professional at the session was the rabbit, who was, in fact, a real friend of Billy’s. “The rabbit was so docile. It would let the dog put its head smack dab on top of it. There was just total trust between these animals,” says Ledner. And the photographer was hardly upset about shooting an amateur model: “The bunny’s only six weeks old—and how can you be a pro bunny?”

Catherine Ledner is an American photographer based in California and author of two books: Animal House and Glamour Dogs. See more here.

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