Zoopharmacognosy

drunken monkey

Zoopharmacognosy [zoh-uh-fahr-muh-kog-nuh-see] refers non-human animal self-medication (using plants, soils, insects and psychoactive drugs to treat and prevent disease).

Coined by Dr. Eloy Rodriguez, a biochemist and professor at Cornell University, the term came to popular attention in 2003 from Open University lecturer Cindy Engel in ‘Wild Health: How Animals Keep Themselves Well and What We Can Learn from Them.’ A well-known example of zoopharmacognosy is when dogs eat grass to induce vomiting. Some species ingest non-foods such as clay, charcoal, and even toxic plants, apparently to ward off parasitic infestation or poisoning.

Noted primate researcher Jane Goodall witnessed chimpanzees eating particular bushes, apparently to make themselves vomit. Reportedly, they also swallow whole leaves of rough-leaved plants such as Aneilema aequinoctiale to remove parasitic worms from their intestines. Illustrating the medicinal knowledge of some species, apes have been observed utilizing a medicinal plant by taking off leaves then breaking the stem to suck out the juice. Elephants in Africa will self-medicate by chewing on the leaves of a tree from the family Boraginaceae, which induces birth. Kenyans also use this tree for the same purpose.

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