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Sumatran orangutan uses medicinal plant to heal facial wound, marking a remarkable milestone in non-human healing

Sumatran Orangutan Uses Medicinal Plant to Heal Facial Wound

Sumatran Orangutan Uses Medicinal Plant to Heal Facial Wound

A male Sumatran orangutan has astounded researchers by using a medicinal plant to heal a facial wound, marking a groundbreaking moment for non-human species. The incredible incident took place at an Indonesian research site, shining a light on the remarkable abilities that orangutans possess.

Effective Wound Healing

According to a study published in the Scientific Reports journal, the primate identified as Rakus was observed using a paste made from a medicinal plant to treat a large wound on his cheek. The orangutan skillfully applied the poultice plant paste, effectively closing the wound. This incident represents the first documented case of an animal utilizing plant-based healing methods.

During the research process, scientists noticed that Rakus specifically chose a liana plant, tearing off its leaves and using the resulting juice to treat his injury. The orangutan precisely applied the juice to his wound, completely covering it. Remarkably, Rakus continued to feed on the plant for an additional 30 minutes following the treatment.

Researchers hypothesize that Rakus was evidently aware of the healing properties possessed by the poultice. Orangutans seldom consume the plant under normal circumstances, highlighting the primate’s understanding of the healing process. The specific actions taken by Rakus, including the plant’s placement and the duration of treatment, further indicate his intentional healing strategy.

“They are our closest relatives, and this again points towards the similarities we share with them. We are more similar than we are different,” stated biologist and lead author Isabella Laumer, emphasizing the close kinship between humans and orangutans. Laumer anticipates continued discoveries of similar behaviors and human-like abilities as research progresses.

Rakus Sustained Wound in Interspecies Conflict

A male Sumatran orangutan named Rakus on August 25, 2022, two months after wound self-treatment using a medicinal plant in the Suaq Balimbing research site with the facial wound below the right eye barely visible anymore. (Credit: Safruddin / Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior via REUTERS)

Further investigations by researchers revealed that Rakus obtained the facial injury during confrontations with other male orangutans. The wound occurred during Rakus’ secondary sexual development, as he attempted to establish his dominance as the alpha male in the area.

While this healing phenomenon represents the first documented case among orangutans, the researchers note that the infrequency of injured orangutans observed at the site might have limited their chances to witness similar instances in the past.

Power of the Medicinal Liana Plant

The plant utilized by Rakus, Fibraurea tinctoria, commonly known as Akar Kuning, Akar Palo, or Yellow Root, is an evergreen species with a wide distribution across Southeast Asia, including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. This plant and related liana species found in tropical forests throughout Southeast Asia have long been integrated into traditional medicine, particularly in treating ailments such as diabetes, malaria, and dysentery. Every part of the plant, from the leaves to the roots and bark, is employed for its medicinal applications.

The use of biologically active substances from plants to treat active wounds by a wild animal stands as a pioneering discovery. This breakthrough, according to the authors of the study, provides valuable insights into the origins of human wound care.


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