A Wild Orangutan Was Spotted Using A Medicinal Plant To Treat A Wound

May 9, 2024

Today's good news story comes from South Aceh, Indonesia.

A groundbreaking study published in Scientific Reports has revealed a remarkable case of self-medication in a male Sumatran orangutan.

Researchers documented the orangutan, named Rakus, exhibiting a novel behavior in response to a facial wound sustained during a possible altercation with other orangutans.

orangutan self healing medicine
Photo by Timo Schlüter

Three days after the injury, Rakus was observed engaging in a series of deliberate actions to treat his wound. He selectively tore leaves from a liana known as Fibraurea tinctoria, commonly referred to as Akar Kuning, and chewed them, releasing the plant's juice. He then applied this juice directly onto the wound, repeating the process several times. As a final step, Rakus covered the wound entirely with the chewed leaves.

The behavior displayed by Rakus is particularly noteworthy because Fibraurea tinctoria and related liana species are known for their medicinal properties, including analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Chemical analyses have identified compounds in these plants with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, which are relevant to wound healing.

orangutan uses medicine
Rakus / Credit: Nature.com

Observations over subsequent days showed no signs of infection, and by June 30, the wound had already closed, leaving only a faint scar. Additionally, Rakus exhibited increased resting behavior after sustaining the wound, which may have contributed positively to the healing process.

This study marks the first systematic documentation of active wound treatment with a biologically active plant substance in great apes and other non-human species. The findings shed new light on the capacity of animals, particularly primates, to engage in self-medication and provide insights into the origins of human wound care practices.

Read the full scientific study on Nature.com

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