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As humans, we tend to our wounds when we are slightly hurt. To ensure healing, our species actively seeks out individuals with medical training, which is a serious issue. The medical field in the realm of wild animals is very different. An apparent fight wound on the face of one male Sumatran orangutan could have meant infection and agony. But where he wanders through the Indonesian rainforest, the big orange primate discovers a way to heal himself with a plant that grows there naturally.

The orangutan Rakus chewed and applied a medicinal plant in a documented species first, as reported in Scientific Reports. This finding strongly suggests that great apes and humans are related and that ape intelligence is remarkable.

Suaq Balimbing, Indonesia is home to Rakus. He belongs to the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan species, of which there are currently only 14,613 living members. The great apes are studied and observed by biologists at the Universitas National and the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour. They looked closely when they saw Rakus's wound. But they were taken aback by what transpired after three days. Rakus took a plant known as Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria) and chewed it. He then covered his wound with the mush to form a layer of protection. 

Although the plant is well known for reducing pain and preventing infection, the orangutans in the area don't usually eat it. The paper's author, Caroline Schuppli, speculates that the orangutans at Suaq may treat wounds with Fibraurea tinctoria through personal invention. Rarely do the orangutans at the site consume the plant. On the other hand, people who eat this plant might unintentionally touch their wounds and apply the plant's juice to them. Due to the strong analgesic properties of Fibraurea tinctoria, people may experience instantaneous pain relief, which may prompt them to repeat the action multiple times. Rakus might have carried this information from his birthplace as well. Therefore, more people in his natal population outside of the Suaq research area may exhibit the behaviour, according to Schuppli.

Rakus was fortunate that his therapy was effective and that his wound closed up nicely. Even though there have been other reports of great apes tending to wounds, this particular wound-specific treatment and the layering of plant material in various consistencys were noteworthy.

This amazing discovery is "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," according to a statement from the Max Planck Institute. 

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