In a groundbreaking observation, scientists studying the Sumatran Orangutan population in a part of the Gunung Leuser National Park in South Aceh, Indonesia witnessed a remarkable display of self-medication by a male Orangutan named Rakus. Initially spotted with a fresh facial wound, believed to be the result of a confrontation with another male, Rakus caught the researchers’ attention as he engaged in an unexpected behaviour.

Application of Healing Plant

Three days after sustaining the injury, Rakus was observed engaging in a deliberate process of self-treatment. Feeding on the stem and leaves of a liana climbing vine known as Fibraurea Tinctoria, Rakus chewed the leaves and applied the resulting juice directly onto his wound. This process, repeated several times, involved covering the wound with the chewed leaves until it was fully enveloped, indicating a purposeful application of the plant’s medicinal properties

Sumatran Orangutan Demonstrates Self-Medication with Plant Treatment
Rakus, the Sumatran Orangutan, self-medicates with Fibraurea Tinctoria | đź“·: Saidi Agam/Suaq Project/PA

Healing Properties of the Plant

Analysis of Fibraurea Tinctoria revealed a plethora of medicinal properties, including antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving effects. The presence of chemical compounds with significant biological activity relevant to wound healing further corroborated the effectiveness of Rakus’s chosen treatment. This discovery underscores the sophistication of Orangutans’ understanding of their environment and their ability to utilize natural resources for self-care.

Sumatran Orangutan Demonstrates Self-Medication with Plant Treatment
Fibraurea Tinctoria, also known as Akar Kuning, thrives in Southeast Asia’s tropical forests, boasting analgesic, antipyretic, and diuretic properties, a natural pharmacy in the green canopy.

Implications for Evolution and Human Medicine

Rakus’s behavior offers intriguing insights into the evolutionary origins of wound care practices. It suggests that the capacity to recognize and utilize substances with medical properties may have deep roots in our shared evolutionary history with orangutans. This finding not only highlights the interconnectedness of humans and our closest relatives in the animal kingdom but also prompts further exploration into the cognitive abilities of non-human primates.