Wound Care University

We are Bananas for Wound Care
Jun 20, 2024

Humans have been using salves and bandages since 2000 BCE to treat wounds. An interesting new development shows we are not alone in our abilities!

Armas/Suaq Project

Rakus, a wild orangutan in Indonesia suffered a painful wound to his cheek.  What he did next stunned those observing him. He began chewing plant leaves known to have pain-relieving and healing properties, rubbed the juice on the open wound — and then used the leaves as a poultice to cover his injury.

“This case represents the first known case of active wound treatment in a wild animal with a medical plant,” says biologist Isabelle Laumer, the first author of a paper about the revelation. 

This innovation was noted at the Suaq Balimbing research site in the Gunung Leuser National Park in northwest Sumatra, where arounf 150 orangutans live in a protected rainforest.

Researchers noted Rakus with this new wound on June 22, 2022. Three days later, he started eating the stem and leaves of a liana — a rarely consumed vine that researchers say the orangutan population in Suaq wouldn’t go to as a first choice for a snack. From there, his behavior became very intentional.

Rakus was observed for 13 minutes eating the plant, and then he spent 7 minutes chewing the leaves but not swallowing it. Once he had chewed the liana, he was seen daubing the plant’s juices onto his wound. When flies began landing on his wound, Rakus fully covered it with leaf material, making himself a bandage to protect his wound.

In just five days, our orangutang wound nurse had success, and his wound was resolved! 

Not only was Rakus a fantastic nurse, but he also mastered the hardest part- being a good patient! Aside from reapplications of his salve, he also rested much more than usual.

Around a month after applying medicine to his wound, Rakus has fully healed, with only a slightly noticeable scar.

The plant our furry colleague was using is a liana vine called Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria). The plant has analgesic, antipyretic and diuretic effects used in traditional medicine in the region. 

Its common name is Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria). It’s a type of liana — a vine that climbs into tree canopies to reach sunshine. The plant has analgesic, antipyretic and diuretic effects; in traditional medicine in the region, it’s used to treat diseases from dysentery and diabetes to malariaAn analysis of the plant’s chemical compounds has found “the presence of furanoditerpenoids and protoberberine alkaloids, which are known to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and other biological activities of relevance to wound healing,” according to the paper referenced below.

“It also contains jatrorrhizine (antidiabetic, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal, anticancer, and hypolipidemic properties… and palmatine (anticancer, antioxidation, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral properties,”

Rakus’ seemingly innovative is indicative that “medical wound treatment may have arisen in a common ancestor shared by humans and orangutans,”.

Great apes have also been documented eating certain plants for therapeutic and anti-parasitic benefits. The researchers also note that some chimpanzees have been seen applying small insects to wounds though “the efficiency of this behavior is still unknown.”

The work Rakus and those observing him have done could lead to new insights into the evolution of self-care and medicine in mammals.


Active self-treatment of a facial wound with a biologically active plant by a male Sumatran orangutan

Isabelle B. Laumer, Arif Rahman, Tri Rahmaeti, Ulil Azhari, Hermansyah, Sri Suci Utami Atmoko & Caroline Schuppli


Wound Care University

Get In Touch