Chimpanzees ‘self medicate’ with food that includes medicinal ingredients like anti-bacterial agents and de-wormers, a new study has suggested.
Lead author Shelly Masi, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and her team recorded the items consumed by a community of over 40 wild chimpanzees at Kibale National Park, Uganda.
Besides the items, they documented the availability of the foods, as well as the social interactions between the chimps, Discovery News reported.
They also collated the same information for about a dozen wild western gorillas in Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic.
Unusual food consumption in chimpanzees, implying foods not normally associated with nutritional needs, was twice as high as it was for gorillas.
Gorillas turned out to have more specialized guts that are better capable of detoxyifying harmful compounds, making them have less of a need to self-medicate than chimps and humans may need to.
“We conclude that self-medication may have appeared in our ancestors in association with high social tolerance and lack of herbivorous gut specialization,” Masi and her colleagues said.
Chimpanzees and people are very social and both learn from each other, including what to eat.
“Older and more successful individuals (such as those that are high ranking) are expected to be the best model to copy, and are mainly responsible for generating and transmitting food traditions.”
Study of the mostly non-nutritional and sometimes slightly toxic foods consumed divulged that most had medicinal properties.
Based on the study, the chimpanzee medicine chest apparently included the following: Antiaris toxicaria leaves (anti-tumor), Cordia abyssinica pith (anti-malarial and anti-bacterial), Ficus capensis (anti-bacterial), Ficus natalensis bark (anti-diarrheal), Ficus urceolaris leaves (de-worming agent), and many more.
The primates appeared to have purposefully opted for the medicinal parts of these plants, and consumed them even when other more nutritious and palatable foods were available.
Additional research has also shown that apart from chimpanzees and other non-human primates, other animals like goats and monkeys, self-medicate too.