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Wounded orangutan spotted using plant as medicine

  • May 3, 2024
  • 2 min read
Wounded orangutan spotted using plant as medicine

A Sumatran orangutan in Indonesia was witnessed self-medicating his wounds. The primate was observed using a paste made from plants to treat a large wound on his cheek. This is the first time any animal in the wild was ever recorded treating an injury with a medicinal plant.  

After researchers witnessed Rakus applying the plant to his face, the wound closed up and healed within a month. This behaviour, scientists say, could come from a common ancestor that we share with other great apes.

“They are our closest relatives and this again points towards the similarities we share with them. We are more similar than we are different,” biologist Dr Isabella Laumer at the Max Planck institute in Germany and lead author of the research said.

A research team in the Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia witnessed the Orangutan with a large wound on his cheek in June 2022. They believed that this was due to a fight between Rakus and a rival male orangutan. This is because he made loud cries, known as long calls, in the days before they say his wound.

They then witnessed Rakus chewing the stem and leaves of plant known as Akar Kuning. This is an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial plant that locals use to treat malaria and diabetes. He was seen applying the liquid on his cheek for around seven minutes, before smearing the chewed leaves onto his wound until it recovered. He continued to feed on the plant for over half an hour. They appeared to have done the trick. Researcher saw no sign of infection and the wound had closed within five days. A month later and Rakus was completely healed.

This had never been observed before and it is not known if Rakus saw other primates using the plant in a similar way. They will closely watch other orangutans, looking to see if they can spot the same medical skill. “I think in the next few years we will discover even more behaviours and more abilities that are very human-like,” one researcher said.

The research is published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports.

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