Do animals use natural properties of plants to self-medicate?


For more than 30 years, field studies have shown that chimpanzees ingest items of low nutritional value such as rough leaves, bitter stems of Vernonia amygdalina and clay, apparently thereby protecting themselves against parasites and renforcing their health. Among animals, several species of insects and birds as well as other mammals have been evidenced to use secondary compounds to recover or to maintain health. Recently, we described the diversity and the biological activities of items of low nutritional value used by wild chimpanzees in Uganda suggesting a broad repertoire of natural substances that our closest relatives are able to use.


  1. Addessi E, Visalberghi E (2001) Social facilitation of eating novel food in tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella): Input provided by group members and responses affected in the observer. Anim Cognition 4:297–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baker M (1996) Fur Rubbing: Use of Medicinal Plants by Capucin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus), Am J Primatology 38:263–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Birkinshaw CR (1999) Use of Millipedes by Black Lemurs to Anoint their Bodies. Folia Primatologica 70:170–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bjone SJ, Brown WY, Price IR (2007) Grass eating patterns in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris. Recent Adv Anim Nutr in Australia 16:45–49.Google Scholar
  5. Bjone SJ, Brown WY, Price IR (2009) Maternal influence on grass-eating behavior in puppies. J Vet Behavior 4:97–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boesch C (2008) Why do chimpanzees die in the forest? The challenges of understanding and controlling for wild ape health. Am J Primatology 70:722–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chapuisat M, Oppliger A, Magliano P, Christe P (2007) Wood ants use resin to protect themselves against pathogens. Proc Roayl Soc of London, Series B, 274:2013–2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Christe P, Oppliger A, Bancala F, Castella G, Chapuisat M (2003) Evidence for collective medication in ants. Ecology Letters 6:19–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clark L, Masson JR (1985) Use of Nest Material as Insecticidal and Anti-Pathogenic Agents by the European Starling. Oecologia 67:169–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clark L, Masson JR (1988) Effect of Biologically Active Plants Used as Nest Material and the Derived Benefits to Starling Nestlings. Oecologia 77:174–780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clayton DH (1999) Feather-Busting Bacteria. The Auk 116:302–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. File SK, Mc Grew WC, Tutin CEG (1976) The intestinal parasites of a community of feral chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii. J Parasitol 62:259–261.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gompper ME, Hoylman AM (1993) Grooming with Trattinickia Resin: Possible Pharmaceutical Plant Use by Coatis in Panama. J Tropical Ecology 9:533–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Goodall J (1986) The Chimpanzes of Goombe: Patterns of behavior. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Pp: 673Google Scholar
  15. Hasegawa H, Kano T, Mulavwa M (1983) A parasitological survey on the feces of Pygmy chimpanzees, Pan paniscus, at Wamba, Zaire. Primates 24:419–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hoppe-Dominik B (1988) Grass-eating leopards: Wolves turned into sheep? Naturwissenschaften 75: 49–50; DOI: 10.1007/BF00367444.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Huffman MA, Gotoh S, Turner L, Yoshida K (1997) Seasonal trends in intestinal nematode infection and medicinal plant use among chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains, Tanzania. Primates 38:111–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Huffman MA, Hirata S (2004) An experimental study of leaf swallowing in captive chimpanzees- insights into the origin of a self-medicative behavior and the role of social learning. Primates 45: 113–118.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Huffman MA, Seifu M (1989) Observations of illness and consumption of a possibly medicinal plant Vernonia amygdalina (Del.), by a wild chimpanzee in the Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania. Primates 30:51–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Huffman MA, Wrangham RW (1994) Diversity of medicinal plants use by chimpanzees in the wild. In Chimpanzee cultures, RW Wrangham, WC McGrew, FB de Wall, PG Heltne (Eds). Harvard University Press, Mass. Pp 129–148.Google Scholar
  21. Kaur T. Singh J, Tong S, Humphrey C, Clevenger D, Tan W, Szekely B, Wang Y, Li Y, Alex Muse E, Kiyono M, Hanamura S, Inoue E, Nakamura M, Huffman MA, Jiang B, Nishida T (2008) Descriptive epidemiology of fatal respiratory outbreaks and detection of a human-related metapneumovirus in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) at Mahale Mountains National Park, Western Tanzania. Am J Primatology 70:755–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Klein N, Frohlich F, Krief S (2008) Geophagy: soil consumption enhances the bioactivities of plants eaten by chimpanzees. Naturwissenschaften 95:325–331.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Knaapila H, Tuorila K, Silventoinen K, Keskitalo M, Kallela M, Wessman L, Peltonen LF, Cherkas T, Spector TD, Perola M (2007) Food neophobia shows heritable variation in humans. Phys Behavior 91:573–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kondgen S, Kuhl H, N’Goran PK, Walsh PD, Schenk S, Ernst N, Biek R, Formenty P, Matz-Rensing K, Schweiger B, Junglen S, Ellerbrok H, Nitsche A, Briese T, Lipkin WI, Pauli G, Boesch C, Leendertz FH (2008) Pandemic human viruses cause decline of endangered great apes. Curr Biol 18:260–264.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Krief S (2004). Effets prophylactiques et thérapeutiques de plantes ingérées par les chimpanzés: la notion d’ « automedication » chez les chimpanzés. Primatologie 6:171–191.Google Scholar
  26. Krief S, Bories C, Hladik CM (2003) Résultats des examens parasitologiques de selles pratiqués sur une population de chimpanzés sauvages (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) d’Ouganda. Bull Soc Pathologie Exotique 96:80–82Google Scholar
  27. Krief S, Escalante A, Pacheco MA, Mugisha L, Andre C, Halbwax M, Fischer A, Krief JM, Kasenene J, Crandfield M, Cornejo O, Chavatte JM, Lin C, Letourneur F, Gruner AC, McCutchan T, Renia L, Snounou G (2010b) On the diversity of malaria parasites in African Apes and the origin of Plasmodium falciparum from bonobos. PLOS PathogenS, 6: e1000765.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Krief S, Hladik CM, Haxaire C (2005a) Ethnomedicinal and bioactive properties of plants ingested by wild chimpanzees in Uganda. J Ethnopharmacology 101:1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Krief S, Huffman M, Sévenet T, Guillot J, Bories C, Hladik CM, Wrangham RW (2005b) Noninvasive monitoring of the health of Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii in the Kibale National Park, Uganda. Int J Primatology 26:467–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Krief S, Martin MT, Grellier P, Kasenene J, Sévenet T (2004) Novel antimalarial compounds isolated after the survey of self-medicative behavior of wild chimpanzees in Uganda. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 48:3196–3199.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Krief S, Thoison O, Sévenet T, Wrangham R, Lavaud C (2005c) Triterpenoid saponin anthranilates from Albizia grandibracteata leaves ingested by Primates in Uganda. J Natural Products 68: 897–903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Krief S, Vermeulen B, Lafosse S, Kasenene JM, Nieguitsila A, Berthelemy M, L’Hostis M, Bain O, Guillot J (2010a) Nodular worm infection in wild chimpanzees in Western Uganda: a risk for human health? PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 4:e630.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lacroix D, Prado S, Deville A, Krief S, Dumontet V, Kasenene J, Mouray E, Bories C, Bodo B (2009) Hydroperoxy-cycloartane triterpenoids from the leaves of Markhamia lutea, a plant ingested by wild chimpanzees. Phytochemistry 70:1239–1245.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Leendertz FH, Junglen S, Boesch C, Formenty P, Couacy-Hymann E, Courgnaud V, Pauli G, Ellerbrok E (2004) High Variety of Different Simian T-Cell Leukemia Virus Type 1 Strains in Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) of the Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire. J Virology 78:4352–4356.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Leendertz FH, Pauli G, Maetz-Rensing K, Boardman W, Nunn C, Ellerbrok H, Jensen SA, Junglen S, Boesch C (2006a) Pathogens as drivers of population declines: The importance of systematic monitoring in great apes and other threatened mammals. Biol Conserv 131:325–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Leendertz FH, Yumlu S, Pauli G, Boesch C, Couacy-Hymann E, Vigilant L, Junglen S, Schenk S, Ellerbrok H (2006b) A new Bacillus anthracis kills wild chimpanzees and gorilla in West and Central Africa. PLOS Pathogens 2:e8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lefevre T, Oliver L, Hunter MD, De Roode JC (2010) Evidence for trans-generational medication in nature. Ecology Letters 13:1485–1493. doi: 10.1111/j.1461- 0248.2010.01537.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McKenzie SJ, Brown WY, Price IR (2010) Reduction in grass eating behaviours in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris, in response to a mild gastrointestinal disturbance. Appl Anim Behav Sci 123:51–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Nishida T, Wrangham RW, Goodall J, Uehara S (1983) Local differences in plant feeding habits of chimpanzees between the Mahale Mountains and Gombe National Park, Tanzania. J Human Evolution 12:467–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ollomo B, Durand P, Prugnolle F, Douzery E, Arnathau C, Nkoghe D, Leroy E, Renaud F (2009) A New Malaria Agent in African Hominids. PLOS Pathogen 5:e1000446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Petit C, Hossaert-McKey M, Perret P, Blondel J, Lambrechts MM (2002) Blue Tits Selected Plants and Olfaction to Maintain an Aromatic Environment for Nestlings. Ecology Letters 5:585–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Singer MS, Mace KC, Bernays EA (2009) Self-medication as adaptive plasticity: increased ingestion of plant toxins by parasitized caterpillars. PLOS ONE 4:e4796.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Storey PA, Faile G, Hewitt E, Yelifari L, Polderman AM, Magnussen P (2000b) Clinical epidemiology and classification of human oesophagotomiasis. Royal Soc Trop Med 94:177–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Storey PA, Anemana S, van Oostayen JA, Magnussen P, Polderman AM (2000a) Ultrasound diagnosis of oesophagostomiasis. Br J Radiol 73:328–332.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Storey PA, Spannbrucker N. Agongo EA, Van Lieshout L, Zeim JP, Magnussen P, Polderman AM, Doehring E (2002) Intraobserver and interobserver variation of ultrasound diagnosis of Oesophagostomum bifurcum colon lesions. Am J Trop Hyg 67:680–683.Google Scholar
  46. Storey PA, Steenhard NR, Van Lieshout L, Anemana S, Magnussen P, Polderman AM (2001) Natural progression of Oesophagostomum bifurcum pathology and infection in rural community of northern Ghana. Royal Soc Trop Med 95:295–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sueda KLC, Hart BL, Cliff KD (2008) Characterisation of plant eating in dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci 111:120–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Termonia A, Pasteels JM, Windsor DM, Milinkovitch MC (2002) Dual chemical sequestration: a key mechanism in transitions among ecological specialization. Proc Royal Soc London, Series B 269:1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ueno A (2005) Development of co-feeding behavior in young wild Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata). Infant Behavior Development 28:481–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Visalberghi E, Myowa Yamakoshi M, Hirata S, Matsuzawa T (2002) Responses to novel foods in captive chimpanzees. Zoo Biol 21:539–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Visalberghi E, Adessi E (2000) Seeing group members eating a familiar food enhances the acceptance of novel foods in capuchin monkeys. Anim Behavior 60:69–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Visalberghi E, Janson CH, Agostini I (2003) Response toward novel foods and novel objects in wild Cebus apella. Int J Primatology 24:653–675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Walsh CF et al. (2003) Catastrophic Ape decline in western equatorial Africa. Nature 422:611–614.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Williams DE (2008). Self-medication in horses PhD thesis, Colorado State Univ, USA.Google Scholar
  55. Williams JM, Lonsdorf EV, Wilson ML, Schumacher-Stankey J, Goodall J, Pusey AE (2008) Causes of death in the Kasekela chimpanzees of Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Am J Primatology 70:766–777.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wobber V, Hare B, Wrangham RW. (2008) Great apes prefer cooked food. J Human Evolution 55:340–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Woodford MH, Butynski TM, Karesh WB (2002) Habituating the great apes: the disease risks. Oryx 36:153–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wrangham RW, Nishida T (1983) Aspilia spp. leaves: a puzzle in the feeding behavior of wild chimpanzees. Primates 24:276–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Xu M. Litaudon M, Krief S, Martin MT, Kasenene J, Kiremire B, Dumontet V, Guéritte F (2009) Ugandenial A, a new drimane-type sesquiterpenoid from Warburgia ugandensis. Molecules 14:3844–3850.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Wageningen Academic Publishers 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departement HommesNatures, Sociétés UMR 7206, Muséum National d–Histoire NaturelleParisFrance

Personalised recommendations