A wild orangutan used a medicinal plant to treat a wound

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(WASHINGTON) — An orangutan appeared to treat a wound with medicine from a tropical plant — the latest example of how some animals try to alleviate their own ailments with medicines found in the wild, scientists reported Thursday.

Scientists watched Rakus pluck and chew leaves from a medicinal plant used by people throughout Southeast Asia to treat pain and inflammation. The adult orangutan then used its fingers to apply the plant’s juices to a wound on its right cheek. He then pressed the chewed plant to cover the open wound as a makeshift bandage, according to one report. new study in scientific reports.

Previous research has documented several species of great apes searching the forests for medicines to cure themselves, but scientists have not yet seen an animal treat itself in this way.

“This is the first time we have observed a wild animal applying a very potent medicinal plant directly to a wound,” said co-author Isabelle Laumer, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany.

The orangutan’s intriguing behavior was recorded in 2022 by Ulil Azhari, co-author and field researcher at the Suaq Project in Medan, Indonesia. The photographs show the animal’s wound closed within a month without any problems.

Scientists have been observing orangutans in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park since 1994, but have never seen this behavior.

“It’s a unique observation,” said Emory University biologist Jacobus de Roode, who was not involved in the study. “But we often learn about new behaviors starting with a single observation.”

“Most likely it is self-medication,” said de Roode, adding that the orangutan only applied the plant to the wound and no other part of the body.

It’s possible that Rakus learned the technique from other orangutans who lived outside the park and away from scientists’ daily scrutiny, said co-author Caroline Schuppli of Max Planck.

Rakus was born and lived as a young man outside the study area. Researchers believe the orangutan was injured in a fight with another animal. It is unknown whether Rakus has previously treated other injuries.

Scientists have already recorded other primates using plants to treat themselves.

Borneo orangutans rubbed themselves with the juices of a medicinal plant, possibly to reduce body pain or ward off parasites.

Chimpanzees in several locations have been observed chewing bitter-tasting plant shoots to calm their stomachs. Gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos swallow certain rough leaves whole to get rid of stomach parasites.

“If this behavior exists in some of our closest living relatives, what could that tell us about how medicine evolved?” said Tara Stoinski, president and chief scientific officer of the nonprofit Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, who had no role in the study.

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