Chimpanzees Are Able to Find Medicinal Plants


When we become sick, we take medicine to get well. But what remedies do animals use for their recovery? As many dog owners know, dogs eat grass to recover from a stomachache. It turns out that wild chimpanzees in Africa use this same remedy. A male chimpanzee in the National Park in Tanzania was sick and weakened from a parasitic disease, refusing to eat regardless of anything the zoo keepers did to feed him. However, he made a remarkable recovery one day after eating some of the pulp extract from underneath the skin of some plants’ stems he found in the forest. Subsequent analysis found the chimp’s plant to be the herb Vernonia amygdalina from the Asteraceae family, which contains bactericidal components that suppress parasites’ ability to lay eggs. Furthermore, the chimp wisely only sucked at the pulp, knowing that the leaves and bark of this herb are poisonous. This instinctual knowledge is referred to as the chimpanzees’ self-medication ability, which enables them to find the best medicinal plants to remedy their ailments.

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Chimpanzees find herbs mostly for gastrointestinal problems. These herbs have been used to develop new medicines, often times also for gastrointestinal problems such as worms and diarrhea. They have also been used to create fever reducing medicines and antibiotics.

Products and Services

  • New medicines.

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Proposals of Applied Technology

A quarter of the new drugs are derived from plants. We know that there are hundreds of thousands of plants that have pharmacological compounds, but many have not yet been tested. It may take hundreds of years for us to develop new medicines from all of these different kinds of plants. The chimpanzees’ self-medication ability can assist in this regard by helping us to identify useful plants and effective usage patterns. For instance, Ficus Exasperate, a member of the Ficus genus, is an herb that contains bactericidal substances that kill intestinal parasites (which present a fatal danger to the animals) while leaving helpful and essential bacteria (such as E. coli) unharmed. Also, it was found that the the chimpanzees take full advantage of this herb by swallowing it, since chewing it would destroy the herbs’ bactericidal substances.

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