Orangutan Seems to Treat Wound With Medicinal Plant

It's the first documentation of a wild animal applying a strong treatment directly to injury
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 2, 2024 2:54 PM CDT
Orangutan Seems to Treat Wound With Medicinal Plant
This photo provided by the Suaq Project shows Rakus, a wild male Sumatran orangutan, in Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia, on Aug. 25, 2022, after his facial wound was barely visible.   (Safruddin/Suaq foundation via AP)

An orangutan appeared to treat a wound with medicine from a tropical plant in what is being described as a scientific first. Scientists observed the animal pluck and chew up leaves of a medicinal plant used by people throughout Southeast Asia to treat pain and inflammation, the AP reports. The adult male orangutan then used his fingers to apply the plant juices to an injury on the right cheek. Afterward, he pressed the chewed plant to cover the open wound like a makeshift bandage, according to a new study in Scientific Reports.

"This is the first time that we have observed a wild animal applying a quite potent medicinal plant directly to a wound," said co-author Isabelle Laumer, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany. The orangutan's behavior was recorded in 2022 by Ulil Azhari, a co-author and field researcher at the Suaq Project in Medan, Indonesia. Photographs show the wound closed within a month without problems, per the AP.

Scientists have previously recorded other primates using plants to treat themselves to some degree. For example, Bornean orangutans rubbed themselves with juices from a medicinal plant, possibly to reduce body pains or chase away parasites. And chimpanzees in multiple locations have been observed chewing on the shoots of bitter-tasting plants to soothe their stomachs. But applying a medicinal plant to an open wound is a first, per the Guardian. "If this behavior exists in some of our closest living relatives, what could that tell us about how medicine first evolved?" said Tara Stoinski, who had no role in the study, of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. (Wild apes have been known to overindulge in alcohol, another study found.)

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