Orangutan heals self with photo credit FINAL

By
Bill Chappell, RESEARCH NEWS, npr

Recently, the story of Rakus, a wild orangutan in Indonesia, made headlines when he was observed treating a wound on his face. It is the first known case of active wound treatment in a wild animal with a medicinal plant.When a wild orangutan in Indonesia suffered a painful wound to his cheek, he did something that stunned researchers: He chewed plant leaves known to have pain-relieving and healing properties, rubbed the juice on the open wound — and then used the leaves as a poultice to cover his injury.

“This case represents the first known case of active wound treatment in a wild animal with a medical plant,” biologist Isabelle Laumer, the first author of a paper about the revelation, told NPR. She says she was “very excited” about the orangutan’s seeming innovation, which was documented at the Suaq Balimbing research site in the Gunung Leuser National Park in northwest Sumatra, where some 150 orangutans live in a protected rainforest.

The orangutan is named Rakus. Laumer says he might have picked up the large wound in a fight with a rival male. A few days later, he was seen using a plant to treat his injury. The wound then healed, seemingly without any infection.Laumer and another researcher, Caroline Schuppli, led a team of cognitive and evolutionary biologists from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany and Universitas Nasional in Indonesia.

Rakus was spotted with the new wound on June 22, 2022. Three days later, he started eating the stem and leaves of a liana — a vine that researchers say the orangutan population in Suaq rarely eats. From there, his behavior grew increasingly intentional and specific. Rakus spent 13 minutes eating the plant, and then he spent seven minutes chewing the leaves and not swallowing, instead daubing the plant’s juices onto his wound. When flies began landing on his wound, Rakus fully covered it with leaf material and went back to eating the plant.

Within five days, the wound had closed. And by July 19 — around a month after the injury was likely sustained — “the wound appeared to have fully healed and only a faint scar remained,” the biologists said in their paper, published Thursday in Scientific Reports.

Leave a Comment