Orangutans in the wild used a plant to heal their own injuries

Observation of an orangutan using leaves to treat his wounds: A 21-year journey to the Yukawa national park (Yang-Mills)

In 21 years and 28,000 observation hours, researchers say, they have never seen orangutans use leaves to treat wounds.

“It shows that orangutans and humans share knowledge. Since they live in the same habitat, I would say that’s quite obvious, but still intriguing to realize,” says Caroline Schuppli, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany, and a co-author of the study.

Rakus is a male Sumatran orangutan who is believed to be born in the late 1980s, meaning he was around 32 years old when he was seen applying leaves to his wound. He was first observed in the area in March of 2009.

In 2021, Rakus underwent a growth spurt and became a mature flanged male. Rakus had an open wound on his face in the summer of 2022, which may have been caused by the canines of another male, according to Schuppli.

Days later, Rakus was observed eating the stems and leaves of the creeper akar kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria), which local people use to treat diabetes, dysentery and malaria, among other conditions. Orangutans in the area rarely eat this plant.

Rakus spent 13 minutes eating the plant, then seven minutes chewing the leaves and then spraying the plant’s juices onto his wound. When flies began landing on his wound, Rakus fully covered it with leaf material and went back to eating the plant.

The research group has seen no other orangutans in the national park self-medicate using akar kuning in 21 years of observation. This could be because wild orangutans in the region are rarely injured. Perhaps Rakus is the only one that knows about this treatment which may have started before he moved to the area.

Huffman says self-medication is seen in many species. Canadian snow geese (Anser caerulescens) swallow leaves whole to expel tape worms2. Dusky-footed wood rats (Neotoma fuscipes) line their nests with aromatic plants to fumigate parasites3. And chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in Gabon have been observed rubbing insects near their wounds2, potentially as treatment.

Humans might even have discovered some remedies by watching animals, he says. Our ancestors probably looked at other animals and learned how to use medicines. Information can last over generations when social animals communicate.

Orangutan applied medicinal plant to heal its own injury: Laumer’s “very excited” research site in the Gunung Leuser National Park in northwest Sumatra

She’s “very excited” about the orangutan’s seemingly innovation, which was documented at a research site in the Gunung Leuser National Park in northwest Sumatra.

The orangutan is named Rakus. Laumer says he might have picked up a wound during a fight. He used a plant to treat the injury a few days later. The wound healed without any problems.

Laumer was one of the researchers who led a team of evolutionary and cognitive biologists from Germany and Indonesia.

Within five days, the wound had closed. The biologists said that by July 19 the wound appeared to have healed, and there was only a faint scar left.

Source: Orangutan in the wild applied medicinal plant to heal its own injury, biologists say

Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria): “An Orangutan in Sumatra”, according to Schuppli

Its common name is Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria). It’s a type of liana — a vine that climbs into tree canopies to reach sunshine. In traditional medicine of the region, the plant is used to treat a range of diseases from Diabetes to Malaria.

Analysis of the plant’s chemical compounds has found “the presence of furanoditerpenoids and protoberberine alkaloids, which are known to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and other biological activities of relevance to wound healing,” according to the researchers’ paper.

“It also contains jatrorrhizine (antidiabetic, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal, anticancer, and hypolipidemic properties… and palmatine (anticancer, antioxidation, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral properties,” the paper said.

According to Schuppli, Orangutan Males can either establish a new home range in another area or move between other’s home ranges, after puberty.

Rakus might share his knowledge with other orangutans. That gets into the social question of culture. Orangutans in Sumatra have developed a skill for sharing ideas, with popular behaviors spreading until they reach a natural boundary like a river.

“The treatment of human wounds was most likely first mentioned in a medical manuscript that dates back to 2200 BC, which included cleaning, plastering, and bandaging of wounds with certain wound care substances,” Schuppli said in the news release.

There is a correlation between the treatment of wounds in humans as well as in African and Asian great apes and the recognition of substances with medical or functional properties to wounds.

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