RESEARCH: Scientists think Chimpanzees can use medicine tools to treat wounds

A previous research paper mentioned in the New Scientist magazine (February 2022) revealed that captive Orangutans can learn how to use stone tools as hammers and knives, but they can’t make the tools. In another study published in the journal Current Biology (February 2022), scientists think that Chimpanzees may be able to use medicine tools to treat their own and other Chimpanzees’ injuries and wounds.

Both Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are mammals in the Hominidae family of apes – primates without a tail that walk on their knuckles. Orangutans are from Asia and Chimpanzees are from Africa.

Since 2005, researchers in the Institute of Cognitive Science, Comparative BioCognition at the University of Osnabruck in Germany studied 45 chimpanzees in the natural habitat in the Loango National Park in Gabon on the west coast of Africa. 

From November 2019 to February 2021, the researchers noted 76 open wounds (sores) on 22 different chimpanzees. 

In 19 different instances, the researchers observed a chimp performing what looked like self-treatment of the wound using an insect to heal it. In a few instances, the researchers saw one chimp treating another chimp. 

The healing procedure was the same every time. Each chimp caught a flying insect, squeezed it between its lips, and placed it on its own wound. Using its fingers, the chimp moved the insect all over the wound. Then the chimp used its mouth or fingers to remove the insect from the wound. Sometimes, the chimp repeated the action several times.

The researchers could not get close enough to the chimpanzees to determine what insect it was or how the insect helped to heal the wound. 

However, a chimpanzee attending to sores using insects as a medicine tool was quite a surprise to the researchers. So, the research scientists think that chimpanzees may be able to use medicine tools, such as insects, to treat their own and other chimpanzees’ injuries and wounds.

Location of photographs: Uganda, Africa

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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