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Ask Dr. Ape – The Awesome Science of Zoopharmacognosy

by Carl Tant

It is an awesome new science with an awesome name. Zo-o-pharm-a-cog-no-sy was coined by Dr. Eloy Rodriguez to describe the use of natural materials by wild animals to treat their own diseases. Here you will find a summary of peer-reviewed scientific study research reports. Fables and myths about animal self-medication have abounded in the popular press for many years. They are interesting and some are important because they provide leads for the academic research done beginning in the 1990’s. The results of the scientific research are even more striking and many will form the basis for new human medications. The jargon of the scientific reports is translated into terms for easy understanding by students and other non-scientists.

The initial laboratory of the investigators was the jungle. It was not the romantic jungle of Hollywood; it was hot, steaming, filled with venomous snakes, insects, and parasites which subjected the researchers to the same diseases that afflicted the animals. Some of the problems were unique. How do follow an 800 pound gorilla through dense plant growth which limits visibility to five feet? How do you make sure it is the same gorilla you observed yesterday? How is the study affected by the “see, but don’t be seen” rule for valid observations? These and many other problems described are not taught in most biology courses.

While most of the animals studied have been primates such as gorillas and chimpanzees others have not been overlooked. Birds, other animals, and even caterpillars suffer from parasites and treat their own illnesses.

What does an overdue pregnant elephant do to induce labor? How do some monkeys apparently predetermine the sex of their offspring? What are the plants, soil, and even ants which make up Dr. Ape’s pharmacy? What happens to baboons that steal human food and adopt human fast food eating habits? Find the fascinating answers here.

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