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Wild Orangutan Used Medicinal Plant to Heal Its Own Wound

A research study published today has the scientific community abuzz. Researchers observed an orangutan expertly using a medicinal plant to heal its own wound. It’s the first scientific record of this happening—and that’s a big deal.

Scientists have been observing a Sumatran orangutan named Rakus since 2009 when he first moved into Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia. In June 2022, a research team noticed Rakus had a “fresh wound on his right flange” and inside his mouth. Scientists believe Rakus had gotten into a fight with another male orangutan.

A few days later, the researchers observed Rakus chewing the stem and leaves of the Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria) plant, which isn’t typically a big part of orangutans’ diet. Instead of swallowing, the orangutan chewed them, spit them out, and painted his wound with the medicinal plant pulp. Then, he fully smeared it over his wound, covering the injured flesh completely.

In other words, the orangutan made a poultice from a plant known for its medicinal properties. His wound closed up within eight days.

Importance of the Research

The researchers said that in 21 years and 28′000 observation hours, “we never observed any other orangutans [. . .] using Fibraurea tinctoria to treat their wounds.”

The hypothesis is that “preparing and applying herbal ointments may be a form of self-medication that reduces pain, prevents inflammation, and accelerates wound healing.”

Researchers believe this is the first report of “active wound management with a biological active substance in a great ape species.” It provides new insights into the how non-human animals use self-medication in the wild.

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