Sumatran orangutan treats its wounds naturally

Extraordinary observation in Indonesia. A wild Sumatran orangutan healed a wound on his cheek by applying a natural treatment for days

It’s not only dolphins that rub against corals to self-medicate. Primates also treat their injuries using natural remedies found in the environmental “pharmacy”. This behavior is observed in gorillas and orangutans alike.

A Sumatran orangutan, injured in a fight, was recently observed in its habitat applying chewed leaves to its face without swallowing them. The treatment was repeated over several days, and within a month, the wound had completely healed.

This incident marks the first recorded instance of wound treatment by a wild Sumatran orangutan. The case has been the focus of new research published in the journal Scientific Reports.

A case study of Rakus

The subject, a male Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) named Rakus, resides in Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia. In 2022, he was spotted with a significant cheek wound presumed to be from a conflict with another male.

A research team monitored the animal and observed Rakus chewing the stem and leaves of Fibraurea tinctoria, a plant also known as Akar Kuning. Locally recognized for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties, this plant was utilized by Rakus to create a paste.

orangutan Rakus uses leaves for its wounds

@Scientific Reports

Rakus then applied this paste to his face, covering the entire wound and repeating the treatment over several days. Researchers have meticulously documented this remarkable observation and noted that Rakus also spent more time resting.

Orangutan Rakus

@Scientific Reports

This suggests that the orangutan was recuperating energy lost from the fight and was accelerating the healing process. Rakus appeared to know the procedure well, understanding its benefits.

Researchers believe that this behavior is intentional and may be socially transmitted from one individual to another. However, no other orangutans in the area have been seen using Fibraurea tinctoria leaves for wound healing.

Insights on animal self-medication

The phenomenon of non-human animals using self-medication is not new, though it remains challenging to document. Nature provides remedies that are shared across great apes.

Experts suggest that “it is possible that there exists a common underlying mechanism for the recognition and application of substances with medicinal or functional properties to wounds, and that our last common ancestor already exhibited similar forms of behavior in the preparation of ointments.”

Source: Scientific Reports

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