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In East Africa just like in other parts of the world, humans have traditionally used plants to cure illnesses, including the tree, Alstonia boonei, used to treat the stomach flu and other bacterial infections.

Now, a group of researchers, who wondered if chimpanzees had similar self-medicating behaviors, saw one eat dead wood from A. boonei, after collecting it far away from his herd’s home. They said the animal had suffered from diarrhea and tapeworms.

Their study focused on two wild chimpanzee communities in Uganda’s Budongo forest, which they observed for eight months. They collected samples of what they ate and what they produced – feces and urine helped establish whether the specimen was sick.

“To study wild chimpanzee self-medication you have to act like a detective – gathering multidisciplinary evidence to piece together a case,” said Elodie Freymann, lead author of the study, from the University of Oxford.

For the first time, her team’s work provided evidence that chimps looked for plants with medicinal benefits – often successfully.

About 90 percent of the analyzed plant extracts inhibited the growth of bacteria, some of which also cause human diseases. And a third had anti-inflammatory qualities.

One chimp, observed to have an injury to his hand, was seen snacking on a type of fern none of his mates were eating. They found the fern had anti-inflammatory qualities: The animal “was using his hand again within the next few days,” Freymann said.

The report came weeks after scientists found an orangutan in Indonesia using a plant compound to treat a wound on its face.

“It’s always very fascinating to find out that our closest relatives are showing behaviors that we humans also show,” primatologist Isabelle Laumer, who led the study on the orangutan, told the Washington Post about Freymann’s team’s report.

The discoveries could help develop human medicine. “One day the knowledge of chimpanzees could save human lives,” researcher Fabien Schultz said.

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