Wild orangutan treats wounds using medicinal plants

Scientists have seen animals self-treating themselves often, usually by ingesting medicinal plants. However, a male orangutan in Sumatra has been recorded using medicinal plants to treat his wound, which hasn’t been documented before. Biologists from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, Germany, and Universitas Nasional, Indonesia, witnessed a male Sumatran orangutan with a facial wound eating the leaves of a climbing plant called liana, used in traditional medicine. He also used the sap to tend to his wound and covered his wound with a mesh of chewed leaves.

The study was conducted at the Suaq Balimbing research site in Indonesia, home to 150 orangutans. One of the male orangutans, named Rakus, had a facial wound, perhaps due to a fight with another male orangutan. After three days, the orangutan was recorded using liana leaves to treat the wound. According to Isabelle Laumer, the first author of the study, the leaves of liana and its relative species have antipyretic and analgesic effects. The plant has an antimicrobial effect and anti-inflammatory compounds.

In the aftermath, the wound didn’t become infected; by the fifth day, it was already closed. Rakus also slept for longer periods during this period. Good sleep leads to the production of growth hormones, cell division, and general repair of skin tissue.

However, there are still doubts about whether this behavior is intentional. According to Caroline Schuppli, treating wounds using liana might have been an individual innovation. This behavior is also significant from an evolutionary perspective.  Humans and orangutans might have had a common ancestor that knew which plants were medicinal and how to use them.

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