An image of a Wild Orangutan Using a Herb to Cure his Wound

Wild orangutan seen healing his wound with a plant

Scientists report that a Sumatran orangutan in Indonesia used a plant-based paste as a kind of self-medication to cure a sizable lesion on his cheek.

This is the first instance of a wild critter using a therapeutic herb to cure an injury.

The wound healed in a month after researchers observed Rakus applying the plant poultice to his face.

According to scientists, the behaviour may have originated from a common ancestor of giant apes and humans.

“The fact that they are our closest cousins further emphasises the similarities between us. The study’s lead author, biologist Dr. Isabella Laumer of the Max Planck institute in Germany, stated, “We are more alike than different.

In June 2022, a study team in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park noticed Rakus suffering from a big wound on his cheek.

Since he had been making loud cries known as “long calls” in the days preceding their discovery of the wound, scientists believe he was hurt in a struggle with rival male orangutans.

The scientists then observed Rakus chewing the stem and leaves of a plant known as Akar Kuning, which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and is also used locally to treat diabetes and malaria.

For seven minutes, he dabbed the liquid on his cheek repeatedly. Then Rakus applied the chewed leaves to his wound, covering it completely. He spent more than half an hour eating the plant.

The researchers found no evidence of infection and the incision healed in five days, suggesting that the paste and leaves had their magical effect.

A month later, Rakus recovered completely.

Because orangutans rarely consume this specific plant and because the therapy lasted for a considerable amount of time, the scientists came to the conclusion that Rakus knew he was administering medicine.

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“After applying the mixture several times, he additionally added more substantial plant material. Dr. Laumer says, “We believe that he applied it on purpose because the entire process took a very long time.”

Additionally, Rakus was observed by the researchers to be sleeping for longer than normal—more than half of the day—which may indicate that he was attempting to heal from the damage.

The fact that great apes tried to heal themselves using medicine was well known to scientists.

Biologist Jane Goodall observed entire leaves in chimpanzee excrement in the 1960s, and other witnesses reported witnessing large apes ingesting medicinal-grade plants.

However, they had never witnessed a wild animal bandaging a wound using a plant.

It’s probable, according to Dr. Laumer, that Rakus had never received this kind of treatment before.

“It’s possible that he touched his wound by mistake with the finger that had the plant on it. He may have experienced instant pain relief from the plant’s strong analgesic properties, which is why he kept applying it, the source adds.

Alternatively, he might have picked up the technique by observing other orangutans in his troop.

Now that Rakus has demonstrated similar medical talents, the researchers will be keeping a careful eye on other orangutans to see whether they can detect them.

“I think in the next few years we will discover even more behaviours and more abilities that are very human-like,” she says.

Scientific Reports, a scientific publication, publishes the research.

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