Orangutan Stuns Scientists As It Becomes First Ever Wild Animal To Treat Wound With Medicinal Plant

By maks in News On 11th June 2024

Apes have long been recognized as extremely intelligent creatures, yet the extent of their intelligence might still surprise many. 

The intelligence of these animals was strikingly demonstrated by a Sumatran orangutan named Rakus, who astonished biologists by treating his own wound with medicinal plants. 

This marked the first occasion on which scientists have witnessed a wild animal deliberately using a plant with known pain-relieving properties to treat an injury.

Living in Indonesia, Rakus was seen using the leaves of a climbing plant called Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria).

Rakus is thought to have sustained the injury in a fight. Armas / Suaq Project / PA Wire

He chewed these leaves and then applied the moist paste he created to a wound on his right cheek.

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It's thought that he acquired this injury during a conflict with another male orangutan from the area.

Observers noted Rakus meticulously tearing off leaves and chewing them before applying the chewed-up mixture directly onto his injury. 

He continued this process for about 30 minutes until the wound was entirely covered.

Rakus had incurred this injury three days prior to when his self-treatment was noted at the Suaq Balimbing research site in Indonesia.

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This site is a protected rainforest that is home to 150 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans.

Following his application of the homemade remedies, the researchers observed no signs of infection in the wound. 

Miraculously, the wound was healed within a month. Saidi Agam / Suaq Project / PA Wire

The injury then closed up within five days and had completely healed after a month.

During his recovery, Rakus was reportedly resting more than usual.

It is said that 'sleep positively affects wound healing as growth hormone release, protein synthesis, and cell division are increased during sleep.'

The scientists believe that Rakus was purposely treating his wound with this medicinal plant, as he did not apply it to any other parts of his body.

Dr. Isabelle Laumer, a primatologist and cognitive biologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour, shared her observations:

"During daily observations of the orangutans, we noticed that a male named Rakus had sustained a facial wound, most likely during a fight with a neighbouring male."

She explained that the Akar Kuning plant is indigenous to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and is renowned for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.

The Akar Kuning plant has many healing properties. Saidi Agam / Suaq Project / PA Wire

It's frequently used in traditional medicine to treat ailments such as dysentery, diabetes, and malaria.

Dr. Laumer added: "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 team is hopeful that their findings about Rakus, which have been published in the journal Scientific Reports, might illuminate how knowledge of wound treatments developed among humans.