Sumatran orangutan becomes first wild animal seen using medicinal plant to treat wound

A Sumatran orangutan has become the first wild animal seen self-medicating with a plant to heal a wound.

The male orangutan, named Rakus, had suffered a wound on his cheek, probably from fighting with other males, researchers said in a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Rakus was seen chewing vine leaves without swallowing them and then using his fingers to apply the resulting juice to the wound, investigators said.

Finally he completely covered the wound with a paste he had made by chewing the leaves and continued feeding on the plant.

Five days after he was seen applying the leaf paste to the wound, it was closed and a month later it was barely visible.

A closeup of an orangutan's face with a wound.
Rakus is seen with a facial wound under his eye.()

Rakus is seen with a facial wound under his eye.

A closeup of an orangutan in a tree without any wounds on its face.
The orangutan was seen applying a vegetable paste to a facial wound.()

Two months later the wound was almost invisible.

It is the first documented case of active treatment of wounds by a wild animal with a plant known to have medicinal qualities.

The leaves were from a vine known as akar kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria in Latin), which is used in traditional medicine to relieve pain, reduce fever and treat various diseases, such as diabetes and malaria.

It also has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antioxidant properties.

“To our knowledge, there is only one report on active wound treatment in non-human animals, namely chimpanzees,” the researchers wrote.

“This possibly innovative behavior presents the first systematically documented case of active wound care with a plant species known to contain biologically active substances by a wild animal and provides new insights into the origins of wound care in humans.”

The orangutan behavior was recorded in 2022 by Ulil Azhari, co-author and field researcher at the Suaq Project in Medan, Indonesia.

Scientists have been observing orangutans in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park since 1994, but they had not seen this behavior before.

Rakus may have learned the technique from other orangutans who live outside the park and away from the daily scrutiny of scientists, said Max Planck co-author Caroline Schuppli.

Rakus was born and lived as a young man outside the study area. Researchers believe the orangutan was injured in a fight with another animal. It is not known if Rakus previously treated other injuries.