Orangutans: Facts|Healing Wisdom|Tale of Self Medication

In a remote corner of the Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia, amidst the lush foliage of the Sumatran jungle, a remarkable event unfolded. This event unveiled a hidden aspect of primate behavior. It challenged our understanding of animal intelligence and highlighted the intricate relationship between nature and healing.

Meet Rakus, a wild male orangutan believed to be around 35 years old, a solitary wanderer navigating the dense canopy in search of sustenance. Rakus, like his counterparts, lived a life intricately intertwined with the ecosystem around him. What set him apart was a display of self-care that astonished researchers, unveiling the healing wisdom of orangutans. It all began in June 2022 when scientists from the Suaq Balimbing research area found Rakus with a noticeable wound on his face. However, This discovery led to a series of observations that would rewrite the narrative of primate behavior. Rakus, in an unprecedented act, was observed engaging in self-medication, a behavior rarely documented in the wild.

Meet Rakus, Orangutans

With meticulous precision, Rakus chewed on the leaves of akar kuning, a medicinal plant known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Despite orangutans’ infrequent consumption of this plant, Rakus seemed to possess an innate understanding of its healing potential. Also, With deliberate intent, he applied the chewed leaves onto his wound, creating a makeshift poultice that enveloped the injury in a cloak of greenery. As days passed, Rakus continued his ritualistic application of the medicinal paste, a testament to his unwavering commitment to self-healing. And the results were nothing short of miraculous. Moreover, Within a week, the wound that once marred his face began to mend, devoid of any signs of infection. Also, It was a triumph of nature’s pharmacy, a testament to the profound wisdom encoded within the rainforest’s embrace.

Rakus Self Healing

Rakus’s story didn’t just represent an isolated incident; it ignited a newfound appreciation for animal behavior intricacies across the scientific community. Furthermore, For Dr. Isabelle Laumer, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany, Rakus’s tale was a beacon of hope for the conservation of Sumatran orangutans, a critically endangered species teetering on the brink of extinction. However, Rakus’s journey comprised just one chapter in a larger narrative of self-medication observed across the animal kingdom. From chimpanzees in Central Africa to bonobos in the depths of the Congo, glimpses of medicinal foraging have illuminated the depths of primate intelligence. And as scientists delve deeper into the annals of animal behavior, they uncover a tapestry of healing rituals woven into the fabric of nature itself.

In the wake of Rakus’s revelation, questions abound about the origins of such medicinal behaviors and their implications for our understanding of evolutionary biology. Could the roots of human medicine be traced back to the ancient practices of our primate cousins? It’s a question that lingers in the air, inviting speculation and exploration into the depths of our shared ancestry. As the sun sets over the canopy of the Sumatran rainforest, Rakus fades into the shadows, becoming a silent sentinel guarding the secrets of his kind. Nevertheless, his legacy endures as a testament to the resilience of life in the face of adversity and the healing power of nature’s embrace. Amidst the whispers of the wind and the rustle of leaves in the heart of the jungle, Rakus’s story reverberates, reminding us of the boundless wonders that await those who dare to venture into the wild.

Researchers have been observing orangutans in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park since 1994. Furthermore, Emory University biologist Jacobus de Roode, not involved in the study, noted it as a single observation. New behaviors often emerged from such instances. He speculated that the orangutan’s application of the plant solely to the wound suggests self-medication. Caroline Schuppli, a co-author from Max Planck, suggested Rakus might have learned the technique from orangutans beyond researchers’ observation in the park.

This observation aligns with previous findings of primates using plants for self-treatment. Observers have noted orangutans in Borneo rubbing themselves with juices from medicinal plants, potentially to alleviate discomfort or combat parasites. Similarly, researchers have observed chimpanzees in various locations chewing on bitter-tasting plant shoots to ease stomach issues. Additionally, gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos consume rough leaves to eliminate stomach parasites.

Tara Stoinski, president and chief scientific officer of the nonprofit Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, was not involved in the study. Nonetheless, she reflected on the significance of such behavior among our closest living relatives. Moreover, This contemplation underscores the importance of understanding primate behavior in broader evolutionary contexts. Also, She questioned what insights this behavior could offer into the evolution of medicine.


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Interesting Facts about Orangutans

  • Orangutans comprise three species: the Bornean, the Sumatran, and the Tapanuli, confirmed as a distinct species in 2017.
  • They are exclusively found in the wild on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.
  • All 3 orangutan species are critically endangered. Moreover, Bornean orangutans have over 100,000 left, Sumatran less than 14,000, and Tapanuli less than 800.
  • Orangutans have a 7+ feet arm span and stand about 1.5 meters tall.
  • Their dexterity allows them to utilize both hands and feet while foraging for food and navigating the forest canopy.
  • Orangutans stay with their mothers for 7 years to learn survival skills through maternal care.
  • Female orangutans give birth every 7 to 9 years, with the longest reproductive rate among land mammals.
  • Male orangutans develop facial flanges upon reaching maturity around 35 years old.
  • Orangutans exhibit remarkable intelligence and communication skills, using tools and vocalizations to navigate their environment and interact with others.
  • Their diet primarily consists of fruit, supplemented by leaves, bark, insects, and occasionally small vertebrates, depending on seasonal availability.
  • Orangutans share 97% of their DNA with humans, highlighting their significance as both ecological components and distant relatives.


Are orangutans friendly to humans?

Orangutans usually steer clear of humans and can be cautious around them.

What eats an orangutan?

Orangutans encounter dangers from tigers, pythons, and humans.

Which ape is the smartest ape?

The orangutan stands out as the most intelligent non-human ape, renowned for its capacity to communicate regarding past occurrences.