Male Sumatran Orangutan 'Rakus' Uses Medicinal Plant to Treat His Facial Wound

The scientists recorded the video of a male Sumatran Orangutan 'Rakus' chewing the leaves and stem of liana (Fibraurea tinctoria) and applied to the wound on the right side of the cheek
During daily observation of the Orangutans, we noticed that a male named Rakus had sustained a facial wound. (Representational Image: Unsplash)
During daily observation of the Orangutans, we noticed that a male named Rakus had sustained a facial wound. (Representational Image: Unsplash)

The scientists recorded the video of a male Sumatran orangutan 'Rakus' chewing the leaves and stem of liana (Fibraurea tinctoria), known locally as 'Akar Kuning', and applying it to the wound on the right side of the cheek.

On June 22, 2022, the Rakus had fresh wounds on his right flange and inside his mouth, which were observed by the research team in the Suaq Balimbing area within Gunung Leuser National Park, South Aceh, Indonesia. It is suspected that the wound was obtained during a fight with another flanged male.

"During daily observation of the orangutans, we noticed that a male named Rakus had sustained a facial wound, most likely during a fight with a neighboring male," Isabelle Laumer, the first author of the study, said in a statement by an MPI-AB.

This research study was conducted by cognitive and evolutionary biologists from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (MPI-AB) in Konstanz, Germany, and Universitas Nasional, Indonesia. Caroline Schuppli and Isabelle Laumer led this study.

On June 25, 2022, after three days, Rakus was seen consuming the leaves and stem of the liana plant, he chewed without swallowing and then repeatedly applied the juice and extracts to his facial wound, and in the end, he fully covered his wound. This process of application to the wound was repeated over 7 minutes. He continued the treatment for 34 minutes. The morphological character of the length of leaves is 15 to 17 cm. This plant is part of the regular diet of the orangutans in the area, but it is infrequently consumed. The record showed that 47 of the 132 studied orangutans have been consuming the Liana plant.

Laumer observed that Raku's behavior was intentional because he selectively treated his facial wound with the plant extract.

The plant used by Rakus as a poultice is found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. It and other plants are known for their analgesic and antipyretic effects. They are, used by local people in traditional medicine to treat various diseases, such as malaria

Isabelle Laumer, First Author of the Study

She added, "Analyses of plant chemical compounds show the presence of furan diterpenoids and protoberberine alkaloids, which are known to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and other biological activities related to wound healing."

Further observation stated that Rakus continued his treatment for about 2 minutes. On subsequent observations, there was no sign of infection, and by June 30, the wound had been visibly closed. On July 19, the wound healed completely.

Sleep positively affects wound healing as growth hormone release, protein synthesis

According to Laumer, Rakus rested more than usual after recovering. "Sleep positively affects wound healing as growth hormone release, protein synthesis, and cell division are increased during sleep," she said.

Schuppli suggests that Rakus' place of origin is unknown, as male orangutans typically leave their natal area after reaching puberty and establish new home ranges. Orangutans ('Man of the Forest' in Malay) are one of the living species of great apes.

The study researchers also plan to observe other wounded orangutans in the same area to see if they followed the same behavior, said Laumer. These new findings highlight the commonalities between humans and orangutans.

This possibly innovative behavior (by Rakus) presents the first report of active wound management with a biologically active substance in a great ape species and provides new insights into the existence of self-medication in our closest relatives and the evolutionary origins of wound medication more broadly
Caroline Schuppli
This possibly innovative behavior (by Rakus) presents the first report of active wound management with a biologically active substance in a great ape species. (Representational Image: Unsplash)
This possibly innovative behavior (by Rakus) presents the first report of active wound management with a biologically active substance in a great ape species. (Representational Image: Unsplash)

As the study concluded, she added that "as forms of active wound treatment are not just human but can also be found in both African and Asian great apes, it is possible that there exists a common underlying mechanism for the recognition and application of substances with medical or functional properties to wounds and that our last common ancestor already showed similar forms of ointment behavior."

(Input from various media sources)

(Rehash/Tabsum Amjad Baig/SB)

During daily observation of the Orangutans, we noticed that a male named Rakus had sustained a facial wound. (Representational Image: Unsplash)
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