Thursday 2 May 2024

Orangutan successfully self-treated a large facial wound through plant medicine

It is the first time that humankind has observed a wild animal self-medicating using the leaves of a plant which he chewed for a long time and then placed the paste onto the large facial wound which was acquired during a fight with a rival. The plant he used is called Akar Kuning. It is an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial plant which local people use to treat malaria and diabetes.

Orangutan successfully self-treated a large facial wound through plant medicine
Photos: Armas and the BBC.

This large facial wound had closed within five days which is remarkable. He chewed the stem and leaves of the plant for around 30 minutes. He applied the resultant liquid on to his cheeks for seven minutes and then smeared the chewed leaves in the form of a paste onto his gaping facial wound under his right eye.

The wound had totally healed after a month. The orangutan's name is Rakus. The way he behaved strongly indicated to scientists that he was applying the medicine to heal his wounds. Orangutans rarely eat this particular plant.

Dr. Laumer said: "He repeatedly applied the paste, and he later also applied more solid plant matter. The entire process lasted really a considerable time. That's why we think that he intentionally applied it."

It is known that the great apes use medicine to try to heal themselves. Jane Goodall, the 1960s biologist who is very well known, saw whole leaves in chimpanzee faeces indicating that they had been eaten for medicinal purposes. Other scientists have observed orangutans swallowing leaves which were known to have medicinal qualities.

But as mentioned it is the first time that a wild animal has been seen applying self-made medicine to a wound and successfully killing himself.

They even think that it might have been the first time that this individual had tried this kind of treatment. Perhaps he had learned watching others or perhaps they had told him how to do it.

Perhaps he found out that it worked by accident in touching his wound with his finger that had just had the plant on it. He discovered that the effect was pain relief which made him apply it again and again. That is another theory. My personal theory would be that it is a form of treatment which orangutans in his group know about and they have passed on the knowledge each to the other.

The researchers will observe other orangutans to see if they have the same knowledge in treating themselves for disease or wounds. They expect to discover even more behaviours of a similar quality and more abilities which are very human-like.

P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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