News-in-Transition

Friday, 12 January 2018

Orangutans may have knowledge of medicines unknown to humans, a study has found. The great apes have been filmed chewing plants into a lather (pictured) - which they then use as an ‘ointment’ on their aching limbs

Orangutans 'may know medicines unknown to humans': Great apes are filmed chewing plants to make 'ointment' that eases aching limbs in a world first

By Colin Fernandez

Orangutans may have knowledge of medicines unknown to humans, a study has found.

The great apes have been filmed chewing plants into a lather - which they then use as an ‘ointment’ on their aching limbs.

The plant is also used by the orangutan’s indigenous human neighbours in the forest.

Related video clip:

Now scientists are investigating the possibility the apes may know of further medicinal plants that could be used by mankind.

Researchers from the Borneo Nature Foundation have filmed the apes since 2003 – collecting over 20,000 hours of recordings.

The apes were spotted using their own herbal medicine in the Sabangau Forest, in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.

After chewing the leaves into a lather, they used it to methodically rub onto their upper arms or legs for between 15 and 45 minutes.

None of the leaf was swallowed, and the remaining chewed pulp always spat out.

Tests on the plant used by the researchers reveal the plant to be - Dracaena cantleyi, known by local people as useful for treating aches and pains.

In the research paper in Scientific Report researchers said that there have been reports of apes swallowing medicines – but never using a plant to create an ointment.

The authors write this is ‘the first time, to our knowledge, the external application of an anti-inflammatory agent in animals.’

In the video, a female orangutan, called ‘Indy’, can be seen chewing the leaves to produce a white soapy lather.

This lather was then rubbed onto the upper left arm for approximately seven minutes and the leaves were never swallowed.

Borneo Nature Foundation collaborated with an international team of scientists to analyse the properties of the plant.

Dr Helen Morrogh-Bernard of the University of Exeter who is Co-Director of Borneo Nature Foundation and lead author of the Scientific Reports paper, said ‘This is very exciting news as it confirms self-medication in orangutans, the first report of self-medication in an Asian ape, and for the first time, to our knowledge, the external application of an anti-inflammatory agent in animals.

Her colleague, Dr Ivona Foitova, of Masaryk University in the Czech Republic added: ‘For the first time ever, self-medication activities of orangutans has been confirmed through this research.

‘Pharmacological laboratory analyses revealed and proved leaf extracts of Dracaena cantleyi, which wild orangutans have been observed rubbing on their bodies, to have anti-inflammatory properties.’

The research team added; ‘This new finding highlights the importance of tropical forests for medicinal plants, but more research into the practical uses of plants is needed.

‘It also opens up the question as to what other plants orangutans may use for medicinal purposes, a topic we know very little about.’

Read more: Daily Mail

 

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21 June - Solstice

22 September - Equinox

21 December - Solstice

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