, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 73-76
Date: 08 Aug 2006

Leaf-swallowing in Nigerian chimpanzees: evidence for assumed self-medication

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A field study in Gashaka, Nigeria, adds the fourth subspecies of chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes vellerosus, to the list of African ape populations in which leaf-swallowing occurs. Unchewed herbaceous leaves of Desmodium gangeticum (Leguminosae-Papilionoideae) were recovered in 4% of 299 faecal samples of wild chimpanzees and clumps of sharp-edged grass leaves in 2%. The ingestion is believed to serve self-medicatory purposes because the leaves had a rough surface or were sharp-edged (which could be related to parasite control through a self-induced increase of gut motility), were not chewed, were excreted whole (indicating that they were not ingested for nutritional purposes), leaf-swallowing was restricted to the rainy season (during which time parasite re-infections are more common), and parasitic worms (Oesophagostomum stephanostomum) were found together with the leaves.

Submitted to: Primates, May 2005; revision: 26 Oct 2005