Sumatran orangutan appears to treat facial wound with medicinal plant

The observation of Rakus, a Sumatran orangutan, using a medicinal plant to treat a facial wound could be the first instance of an animal self-medicating in this manner. The incident was observed by scientists in Gunung Leuser National Park on Sumatra, who were monitoring the area's orangutans.

The injured orangutan, thought to have sustained the wound in a fight with another male orangutan, was seen to pluck and chew the leaves of a medicinal plant, commonly used in Southeast Asia to treat pain and inflammation. Using his fingers, Rakus then applied the plant juices to the wound on his cheek, seemingly treating the injury.

Scientists have hypothesized that the practice of using the plant, known as Akar Kuning in Indonesia, is a form of self-medication, as the injury healed within a month without any further complications. This behavior could indicate that animals can purposefully use natural substances to soothe ailments.

This is one of many observations of non-human primates using plants or natural substances to treat themselves. Other species of great apes have also been seen to self-medicate, using substances to treat wounds, infections, and parasites.

The study's authors theorized that Rakus learned this technique outside the park, away from researchers' viewings. The incident raises questions about the potential for animals to understand the medicinal properties of plants and to use those substances purposefully to treat injuries and illnesses.

Given the proximity of great ape species to humans, it prompts questions about how medicine may have evolved and been discovered in human history. While researchers have previously observed other primates using plants for self-medication, this is the first time a wild animal has been seen to apply a potent medicinal plant to a wound.

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