June 24, 2024

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Dr Orangutan: Wild ape observed treating wound with pain-relieving plant used in traditional medicine | Science News

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Scientists have observed an orangutan treating a wound with a pain-relieving plant. This is the first time that a wild animal has been observed self-medicating with a plant with known medicinal properties. The discovery suggests that medical wound treatment could have originated in a common ancestor of humans and orangutans.

The Orangutan named Rakus with the facial wound. (Image Credit: Armas / Suaq Project).

New Delhi: A wide range of self-medication behaviour has been observed in animals, from parrots that eat clay to aid digestion to dogs eating grass to soothe an upset stomach. Biologists have observed a male Sumatran orangutan who sustained a facial wound apply the sap from a climbing plant with known anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, commonly used in traditional medicine. The orangutan also covered the wound with a plant mesh. This is the first time that scientists have observed a wild animal treat a wound with a medicinal plant.

Great apes are known to ingest specific plants to treat parasite infection, and to rub plant material on their skin to treat sore muscles. Orangutans have also been documented applying anti-inflammatory agents to aching joints. However, this is the first time that wound treatment with a biologically active substance has been documented.

The study took place in the Suaq Balimbing research site in Indonesia, which is a protected rainforest home to around 150 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans. Three days after sustaining an injury, the male orangutan named Rakus ripped off leaves of a Fibraurea tinctoria or Akar Kuning, a plant used in traditional medicine, chewing on them, and applying the juice on the facial wound. The wound was also covered by the chewed leaves.

Intentional behaviour

A paper describing the findings has been published in Nature. First author of the study, Isabelle Laumer says, “This and related liana species that can be found in tropical forests of Southeast Asia are known for their analgesic and antipyretic effects and are used in traditional medicine to treat various diseases, such as malaria. Analyses of plant chemical compounds show 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.”

The research sheds light on the evolutionary origins of wound medication. Scientists suspect there may exist a common underlying mechanism for the recognition and application of substances with medical properties, and the last common ancestor of humans and orangutans may have practiced similar ointment behaviour.

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