Orangutan, Heal Thyself! | God's World News

Orangutan, Heal Thyself!

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    Rakus lives in Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia. He used plant juice to help a wound heal. (Armas, Safruddin/Suaq foundation via AP)
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    Biologists believe Rakus got his wound in a fight with another animal. (Armas/Suaq foundation via AP)
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    Rakus used the liana plant to help his wound heal. People use this vine to treat pain and fight diseases. (Safruddin/Suaq foundation via AP)
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    Rakus used liana leaves like these. (© Saidi Agam/Suaq Project)
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    Rakus eats liana leaves. (© Saidi Agam/Suaq Project)
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A great ape in Indonesia seems to be dabbling in forest medicine. The Sumatran orangutan appeared to treat its own injury using tropical leaves and saliva. Scientists say the leafy lotion is a wild remedy.

Orangutans are great apes, or hominids. The group includes gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos. Some scientists include humans too. That conclusion doesn’t acknowledge that humans are an entirely unique being made in God’s own image. (Genesis 1:27)

The Malay name “orangutan” comes from orang (“man”) and hutan (“forest”). These forest creatures have hair (not fur), fingernails (not claws), fingerprints, and the ability to use their phalanges to grab things. They regularly use tools and build intricate napping nests.

Scientists believe orangutans may be the most intelligent great apes.

Orangutans spend most of their time alone in trees—where those movable fingers and toes help them snag fruit, honey, and even bird eggs for food.

But orangutans pluck more than food. Scientists in Gunung Leuser National Park observed an adult male orangutan named Rakus pick and chew leaves of the liana vine. Some Southeast Asians use liana to treat pain, inflammation, fungal infections, and other health issues.

Rakus applied liana juices to an injury on his right cheek. Afterward, he covered the open wound with the chomped leaves. The mush became a makeshift bandage.

Previous research revealed that great apes forage for medicines to heal themselves. Chimpanzees gnaw on bitter-tasting plants to soothe their stomachs. Gorillas and bonobos swallow certain rough leaves whole to remove stomach parasites. Orangutans rub themselves with plant juices, possibly to reduce body pains or stop parasites.

But scientists hadn’t seen behavior like Rakus’ before. They recently recorded their findings in an article called “Active self-treatment of a facial wound with a biologically active plant by a male Sumatran orangutan” in Scientific Reports.

“This is the first time that we have observed a wild animal applying a quite potent medicinal plant directly to a wound,” says co-author biologist Isabelle Laumer.

Ulil Azhari is another co-author and a field researcher in Indonesia. He recorded the ape’s behavior in 2022. Photographs show the wound closed within a month without problems.

“Very likely it’s self-medication,” says independent biologist Jacobus de Roode. He notes further that the orangutan applied the plant only to the wound and no other body part.

Researchers believe Rakus’ spittle-and-leaf concoction likely helped prevent infection and sped the healing process.

How great is the Creator! He’s not only able to heal diseases, (Psalm 103:3) but He also graciously gives even His animals some degree of healing know-how—and sometimes even provides natural remedies.

Why? God the Creator provides for His beloved creation—human, animal, and the natural world.

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