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How Chimps Use Herbal Medicine to Treat Their Own Wounds

Daniel Kim Views  

Chimpanzees have been observed seeking out medicinal herbs to self-treat their injuries and ailments.

According to recent reports, a research team led by Dr Elodie Freymann of Oxford University has published a study in the journal PLOS ONE suggesting that chimpanzees may help discover new medicines.

The research team spent several months tracking two groups of wild chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest, a central conservation area in Uganda, observing their feeding habits and health conditions.

During the 116-day observation period, the researchers closely monitored chimpanzees showing signs of pain, such as limping or clutching their bodies. To check for possible diseases, they collected fecal and urine samples from seemingly healthy chimps and chimps showing discomfort. Furthermore, experts paid attention to sick chimpanzees eating unusual foods like tree bark or fruit peels, which they normally don’t consume.

For instance, one male chimpanzee became the subject of observation after suffering a severe hand injury. This chimp could not use his hand and was observed seeking a specific plant, dragging his body while his troop fed.

The plant that the chimpanzee ingested is identified as Christella parasitica, a fern species known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. Interestingly, this chimpanzee was the only one in the group who was consuming this plant, suggesting that sick chimps may seek out specific plants. The chimpanzee subsequently made a full recovery.

The research team identified 13 plant species eaten by sick chimpanzees and collected 17 samples for analysis, which were sent to Dr. Fabien Schultz at the University of Applied Sciences in Neubrandenburg, Germany.

The results showed that 90% of the plant extracts inhibited bacterial growth, and one-third had anti-inflammatory properties. As a result, the sick chimpanzees were seeking herbs to reduce infection and alleviate pain and swelling.

A young chimpanzee was observed peeling and eating the bark of the Cat-thorn Tree (Scutia myrtina), known for its ability to reduce intestinal parasites. Analysis of a fecal sample confirmed that the chimpanzee was heavily infected with parasites. Previous assumptions about chimpanzees self-medicating with herbs have been made, but no direct evidence was found. Based on the observation, this study suggests that chimpanzees may not be randomly eating medicinal herbs but actively looking out for them to medicate.

The research team is still unsure how chimpanzees learn to consume specific plants.

Dr Freymann stated, “While it appears instinctual at the moment, the behavior of detecting specific amounts of certain plant species appears to be socially learned.”

The team suggested that this discovery could potentially lead to the development of new medicines. Instead of randomly testing plants for medicinal development, new treatments could be discovered referring to the plants consumed by sick chimpanzees.

On a related note, an orangutan in Indonesia was previously found chewing medicinal herbs and applying the juice to a facial wound. The plant used by the orangutan, known as Akar Kuning, has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

However, there was no evidence in this case to suggest that the behavior was socially learned, so it was considered an individual case.

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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