Animals use nature to heal themselves

Self-medication in the animal kingdom

Source: Robin McKie
Observer January 26 2003 p13

Researchers have discovered that animals often self-medicate to get rid of poisons, parasites or other infections. Capuchin monkeys use millipedes that contain insecticides called benzoquinones. They rub the millipedes on their fur. Chimpanzees eat pith from a plant called Vernonia amygdalina, which is toxic for intestinal worms. Dogs can also tell when owners are ill, for example if they are about to suffer an epileptic fit. Cindy Engel has published a work called 'Wild Health', and notes that mountain gorillas are among animals that eat clay, a substance that can absorb pathogens and toxins. The Wildlife Conservation Society's William Karesh has found that most wild animals can survive a range of infections which are more likely to be fatal in domestic animals. Kenyan elephants have also been found to eat sodium-rich rock, that they grind before swallowing. This helps to provide a defence against toxins found in some plants they consume.