A male Sumatran orangutan was observed applying chewed leaves of Akar Kuning, a climbing plant used in traditional medicine for various conditions such as cuts, dysentery, diabetes, and malaria, directly onto a wound. This intriguing behavior was reported by scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in the journal Scientific Reports. Led by Isabelle Laumer, the team described the case of Rakus, a specimen of Pongo abelii, commonly known as the Sumatran orangutan, as he performed a series of actions to treat a wound. While various wild species have been observed ingesting, chewing, or rubbing plants with medicinal properties, direct application to a fresh wound had never been documented before.

In June 2022, Rakus, a specimen from the research area of Suaq Balimbing in Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia, chewed the stem and leaves of Akar Kuning, or Fibraurea tinctoria, and then applied the resulting liquid to a wound he had inflicted on his right cheek three days earlier. This behavior persisted for seven minutes. Subsequently, the orangutan spread the chewed leaves on the wound until it was completely covered, then continued to feed on the plant for over 30 minutes. The wound had closed within five days and was completely healed within a month. Interestingly, the specimen had repeatedly applied plant material to his wound but to no other part of the body. Experts believe these actions were aimed at intentionally treating the injury.

The plant species used by Rakus, Akar Kuning, has been associated with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antioxidant properties, which likely contributed to Rakus’ wound healing. It remains uncertain whether the animal was aware of the plant’s effectiveness or if it learned this behavior from other orangutans. However, experts speculate that the ability to treat wounds may have originated from a shared common ancestor of humans and great apes. Although this behavior is observed for the first time, scientists conclude that it could be a form of shared knowledge, given the rarity of encountering injured orangutans.

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