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

  • The great apes have been filmed chewing plants into a lather
  • They then use this as an ‘ointment’ on their aching limbs, researchers found
  • The plant is also used by the orangutan’s indigenous human neighbours 
  • Now scientists are investigating if apes know of further medicinal plants

By COLIN FERNANDEZ

11 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 – 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.

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

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 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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW ORANGUTANS USE PLANTS TO EASE SORE MUSCLES

Orangutans chew plants into a lather, which they then use as an ‘ointment’ on their aching limbs.

They are unique in doing this. Gorillas, chimps and bonobos have been filmed swallowing the bitter juice of leaves to control parasite infections, as well as one monkey, the white handed gibbon.

But orangutans appear to have the unique human-like ability to use plants as a soothing rub.

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

The footage was captured apes in the Sabangau Forest, in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.

After chewing the leaves into a lather, she used it to methodically rub onto her arm for seven minutes.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.’

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

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

The orang-utans live in Sabangau Forest. The authors write this is ‘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.’

Gorillas, chimps and bonobos have been filmed swallowing the bitter juice of leaves to control parasite infections, as well as one monkey, the white handed gibbon.

This lather was then rubbed onto the upper left arm for approximately 7 minutes and the leaves were never swallowed. The leaves contain anti-inflammatory properties

This lather was then rubbed onto the upper left arm for approximately 7 minutes and the leaves were never swallowed. The leaves contain anti-inflammatory properties

Gorillas, chimps and bonobos have been filmed swallowing the bitter juice of leaves to control parasite infections, as well as one monkey, the white handed gibbon. It is believed females use the plant to sooth sore muscles and joints 

Gorillas, chimps and bonobos have been filmed swallowing the bitter juice of leaves to control parasite infections, as well as one monkey, the white handed gibbon. It is believed females use the plant to sooth sore muscles and joints

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5259125/Orang-utans-use-medicinal-plants-create-ointment.html#ixzz53vxnLG00
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