As we said in our last blog post, Causing a Stink, we recognize that there are a handful of questions that seem to come up regularly when we talk about natural burial. These questions can be a bit difficult to discuss, and hard for people to even bring up. To make it easier for everyone, we’ve been preparing a series of blogs to address these questions, in hopes that by openly addressing these concerns we can all eliminate some of our fears and anxieties surrounding death. So, as promised, we’re going to address concerns about animals disturbing remains at natural/green burial sites.
Through our research, there just isn’t any evidence that such a thing has occurred at any natural cemetery out there! In a recent poll of green cemeteries, 100% of respondents said that they had never experienced any animal disturbances, even in areas where there are large mammals like bears!
In fact, we were only able to find two verifiable examples of animals exhuming and ‘eating’ human remains in any cemetery of any sort anywhere in the world! (A brief recounting of those two events follows, so if you’re at all squeamish please skip the paragraphs in italics.)
The first was back in 2010 in the arctic circle of Northern Russia. The local brown bears’ traditional food – berries, fungi and the occasional frog – had disappeared after a scorching summer and severe drought. We found a number of sensational references in the world press to the event – “Hungry Russian Bears Feasting on Human Remains” etc. – but upon further research the evidence showed that it was only a single large, emaciated male bear seen digging up a grave.
The second instance was reported in 2016 from a neglected cemetery in Argentina. In this instance the above ground tombs were so poorly maintained that many had started to fall apart and local feral dogs were helping themselves to the exposed human remains.
Any desecration of a burial site is a terrible thing and can cause untold distress to the bereaved. While these two examples (neither of which is in the United States and neither of which has anything to do with natural burial grounds) are shocking and must have been traumatic for the families of the deceased, they do serve as salutary and humbling reminders of the fact that human beings are a part of nature, not separate from it.
It is also worth remembering that in some societies being eaten by wildlife is the goal. For instance, in so-called ‘sky burials’ bodies are left in sacred places to be picked clean by vultures, who, it is believed, transport the dead to Heaven. Most of us though are far more comfortable with the idea of the nutrients in our remains being more discretely recycled through burial in the earth.
Another point that has to be considered is that, with the number of vehicles traveling our extensive roadway system, scavengers in this part of the world have a tremendous buffet of roadkill options available to them – all available on a nice plate of asphalt! So, put bluntly, it’s just not worth the effort and energy for animals to dig up a gravesite to eat the remains. There are far easier pickings out there!