Orangutan seen treating wounds with medicinal herbs for first time in wild animals | Primatology

The high levels of intelligence of orangutans have long been recognized, partly due to their practical skills such as using tools to extract seeds and feed for insects. But new research suggests that primates have another useful skill in their repertoire: the use of medicinal herbs.

Researchers say they observed a male Sumatran orangutan treating an open facial wound using sap and chewed leaves from a plant known for its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

This is not the first time wild animals have been spotted self-medicating: among other examples, Bornean orangutans have been seen rubbing their arms and legs with chewed leaves from a plant used by humans to treat muscle pain, while chimpanzees have been recorded chewing the plants. It is known for treating worm infections and applying insecticides to wounds.

However, the new discovery is the first time a wild animal has been observed treating open wounds with a substance known to have medicinal properties.

“In the case of chimpanzees, they used insects, and unfortunately it has not been discovered whether these insects actually help with wound healing. In our case, the orangutans used the plant, and this The plant has well-known medicinal properties.

The team says the findings provide insight into the origins of human wound care, the treatment of which was first mentioned in a medical manuscript dating back to 2200 BC.

“This certainly shows that these basic cognitive abilities that you need to come up with behavior like this…were around probably at the time of our last common ancestor,” Schopley said. “So this goes back a very long way.”

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Writing in Scientific Reports magazineShopley and his colleagues report how they made this discovery while working in a research area in a protected rainforest in Indonesia.

Leaves from Februria tinctoria A variety of climbing liana vines. Photography: Saidi Ajam/Souq Project/The Palestinian Authority

The team describes how, while tracking a male Sumatran orangutan named Rakus, they noticed that he had a fresh facial wound – possibly the result of a scratch with another male. Three days later, Rakos was seen feeding on the stem and leaves of a plant Februria tinctoria – A type of climbing liana vine.

Then he did something unexpected.

“Thirteen minutes after Racus began feeding on the liana plant, he began chewing the leaves without swallowing them, and used his fingers to apply the plant juice from his mouth directly to his facial wound,” the researchers wrote.

Rakos not only repeated these actions, but shortly thereafter smeared the entire wound with chewed leaves until it was completely covered. Five days later, the facial wound was closed, while it healed within a few weeks, leaving only a small scar.

The team says the plant used by Rakos is known to contain substances with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antioxidant, pain-relieving and anti-cancer properties, among other attributes, while this species and related liana species are used in traditional medicine. “To treat various diseases such as dysentery, diabetes and malaria.”

It remains unclear whether Rakos discovered this process himself or learned it from another orangutan, although it has not been seen in any other individual.

Shopley added that it appears that Rakos used the plant intentionally.

“This shows that he has, to some extent, the cognitive abilities he needs to treat the wound with some medically active plants,” she said. “But we don't really know how much he understands it.”

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