2 min read

Wild Orangutans Spotted Making Medicine Out Of Plants

Mother orangutans could be using it to ease arm pain after carrying their babies all day.

Wild orangutans who regularly swing from treetop to treetop in Borneo have figured out a way to make their arms feel better.

Scientists just realized that that's why orangutans have been chewing leaves of Dracaena cantleyi, a notoriously bitter kind of plant, only to spit them out. They aren't trying to eat the leaves — they're turning the leaves into medicine which actually acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Orangutan using half a coconut as a hat in Borneo
Orangutan in Borneo using half a coconut as a hat and chewing on a leaf | Mongabay

The study, published in Nature and covered by Mongabay, found that orangutans typically chew the plant to create a foamy kind of paste that they then rub on their arms.

While other types of animals have been discovered using natural medicines, this is the first time a great ape has been discovered sourcing anti-inflammatory salves from the environment.

Orangutan holding baby in Borneo

Female orangutans used the medicine more frequently, the study also found. "One possible explanation for this may be the extra weight added by carrying offspring for females when climbing, and may also explain why they concentrate mainly on their arms when fur-rubbing," it said.

Local people in the region also process the same plant into medicine — as if there were any doubt that human beings are related to these clever, social animals.

Orangutan standing on two legs in Borneo
You can help critically endangered orangutans by making a donation to International Animal Rescue.