May 26, 2024 at 3:33 pm

Researchers Observe An Orangutan Treating Its Injury With A Medicinal Plant

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

Biologists have known for a long time that apes are smart, and they’re much more like us than most people are probably comfortable accepting.

That said, this is the first time we’ve ever witnessed a great ape using a medicinal herb without any direction from humans.

Not directly, anyway.

The wild Sumatran orangutan was spotted chewing the leaves of the Akar Kuning plant and applying the juice to a wound he sustained on his cheek, likely after a dominance battle.

He went on until the entire wound was covered, and within weeks, the wound had completely healed.

Source: Shutterstock

There are stories about animals who understand the healing power of plants, particularly when battling a parasite or infection, but this is a first time researchers have seen it happen with their own two eyes.

The closest we’ve come is a chimpanzee applying an insect to their wounds, or to the wounds of their troop members.

The orangutan is called Rakus among researchers, who have been watching his species in Gunung Leuser National Park. Dr. Isabelle Laumer first noticed his wound in June of 2022.

Three days later, they say him chewing the Akur Kuning leaf. He did not apply them anywhere but the wound.

Sumatrans use Akar Kuning to their wounds and also use it in traditional medicine to treat and prevent malaria, dysentery, and even diabetes. Some claim the plant has anti-cancer properties as well, though no clinical trials have been published.

This begs the question of whether the orangutans could have learned about the plant from watching local humans…or maybe the other way around?

An alternate theory is that the use of these medicinal plants may stretch back as far as a last common ancestor with humans, and the knowledge has simply been passed down among their own species.

Source: Cheongweei Gan/Wikipedia

Orangutans in particular seem to have taken to medicinal plants. There are accounts of them swallowing leaves directly related to parasite infections, and reports of female Bornean orangutans chewing the leaves of a Dracaena cantleyi before rubbing the lather on their arms and legs.

Indigenous people in the area use it to treat sore muscles and bone pain.

The study authors are quick to say they don’t know for sure why Rakus applied the salve, or that he was aware in any way of its healing properties.

It also provides pain relief and a wound covering against flies, and the healing factors could have been a happy accident.

Akar Kuning has yet to make the jump to Western markets.

I have a feeling it won’t be long now.

Thought that was fascinating? Here’s another story you might like: Why You’ll Never See A Great White Shark In An Aquarium