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Chimpanzees ‘Self-Medicate’ With Special Healing Plants

Wild chimpanzees eat plants that have pain-relieving and anti-bacterial properties to heal themselves, researchers say.

Chimpanzee in Ugandan jungle
Credit: Elodie Freymann

Following hot on the heals of the discovery of an orangutan applying medication to a wound on its face, other scientists' “detective work” in the forests of Uganda revealed chimpanzees that appeared injured or sick to work out which self-medicating plants they needed.

When an injured animal sought out something specific from the forest to eat, the researchers collected samples of that plant and had it analysed. Most of the plants tested turned out to have antibacterial properties. The scientists, who published their findings in the journal PLOS One, think the chimps could even help in the search for new medicines.

“We can't test everything in these forests for their medicinal properties, lead researcher Dr Elodie Freymann, from the University of Oxford, said. “So why not test the plants that we have this information about - plants the chimps are seeking out?”

Over the past four years, Dr Freymann has spent months at a time following and carefully observing two communities of wild chimpanzees in Budongo Central Forest Reserve.

In total, the researchers collected 17 samples from 13 different plant species and sent them to be tested by Dr Fabien Schultz, at the Neubrandenburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany.

That revealed that almost 90 percent of the extracts inhibited bacterial growth, and a third had natural anti-inflammatory properties, meaning they could reduce pain and promote healing. All the injured and ill chimps reported in this study fully recovered, Dr Freymann was happy to report.


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