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Animal magic, chimps can self-med

By Tim Sandle     Feb 9, 2014 in Environment
Some animals are very adept at practicing medicine to heal themselves. A biologist based in Japan has found a remarkable example of "animal magic" involving chimpanzees.
Chimpanzees in an East African jungle have been observed practicing medicine. When one chimp was sick, she was observed removing several branches from a shrub, peeling back the bark, and then chewing on the inner pith and sucking out the juice. It was the same shrub — mjonso juice — used by a tribe in Tanzania to treat stomachaches, malarial fevers and even gut infections caused by parasites. People knew that the shrub had proven medicinal properties, so too, it appears, did the chimps.
The study was carried out by Michael Huffman of Kyoto University in Inuyama, Japan, and reported by Science News.
To understand whether the chimp had been sick or not, Huffman collected samples of her feces from both before and after she sucked out the juice from the branches of the mjonso plant. In the dung the chimp had passed before eating the plant, Huffman counted 135 eggs from a common parasitic worm. The worm attacks the stomach wall, causing pain. He then examined what she had pooped out just 24 hours after eating the plant. That dung contained only 15 parasite eggs. The finding suggested the chimp deliberately ate the mjonso to rid herself of a painful parasitic infection. This was subsequently confirmed by other studies.
Huffman's work can be viewed in more detail via a report called the 'Chemo-ethology of Hominoid Interactions with Medicinal Plants and Parasites.' Here more can be read about the amazing ways that chimps can self-med.
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