Can animals commit suicide?

Is it possible for animals to, through grief or for some other reason, form the intention to kill themselves — and then actually carry it out?

In the Scottish Lowlands town of Dumbarton, there’s an old stone bridge all the locals know about. It’s called Overtoun Bridge, and it’s the place where dogs go to die.

“The dogs commit suicide,” Lisa Hamilton, a local from a neighboring town, told Mic. “People have theories of why, but I have no idea personally.”

While theories abound, nobody knows for sure what motivated dozens of dogs over the last half-century to jump from the ivy-coated bridge to their deaths on the rocks below.

What is known, however, is that animals dying by their own hand — or paw or beak or flipper — is a phenomenon that has been widely documented since at least the mid-19th century. In 1847, Scientific American published a brief account from the island nation of Malta titled, “Suicide by a Gazelle.”

“A curious instance of affection in the animal, which ended fatally, took place last week at the country residence of Baron Gauci, at Malta,” the magazine wrote. “A female gazelle having suddenly died from something it had eaten, the male stood over the dead body of his mate, butting every one who attempted to touch it, then, suddenly, a spring, struck his head against a wall, and fell dead at the side of his companion.”

While the magazine’s more modern editors leapt over themselves to contextualize the event in a 2011 blog post, speculating the male gazelle was suffering from “neurological damage,” the specter of deliberate animal suicide has continued to linger.

Today, stories of whales intentionally beaching themselves, bears locked away in grim Chinese bile farms killing their young in seeming acts of mercy or dogs mysteriously leaping from old stone bridges continue to crop up, and the implications remain as unsettling as ever.

Can pets — the dogs, cats and other animals we love — commit suicide? It’s a dark question, and the answer is far from clear.