Paging Dr. Zaius: wild orangutan treats own wound

For the first time, a wild animal was observed treating itself with a medicinal plant. According to the journal Nature, Rakus is a Sumatran Orangutan who moved into Gunung Leuser National Park in South Aceh, Indonesia, in 2009. In 2022, he was seen with a significant injury on his cheek, possibly from fighting for dominance with other mature males.

Days later, Rakus was observed eating the stems and leaves of the creeper akar kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria), which local people use to treat diabetes, dysentery and malaria, among other conditions. Orangutans in the area rarely eat this plant.

In addition to eating the leaves, Rakus chewed them without swallowing and used his fingers to smear the juice on his facial wound over seven minutes. Some flies settled on the wound, whereupon Rakus spread a poultice of leaf-mash on the wound. He ate the plant again the next day. Eight days after his injury, his wound was fully closed.

No other orangutans in the area are known to use the plant in the same way. While other animals have been observed using plants or insects to self-medicate, this is the first known instance of a wild animal preparing a poultice and reapplying it to heal an injury. Scientists speculate that Rakus learned this behavior prior to his arrival in the region. However, there is also the interesting possibility that he acquired this behavior by observing humans.

Previously: Apes like to spin in circles to get high, report scientists