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Chimpanzees design and use tools. That is well known. And a new report suggests they may also use medicine to treat their own and others' injuries.

Since 2005, researchers have been studying 45 chimpanzees in the Loango National Park in Gabon, on the west coast of Africa. From November 2019 to February 2021, the researchers saw 76 open wounds on 22 different chimpanzees.

In 19 instances they watched a chimp performing what looked like a self-treatment of the wound using an insect as a salve. In a few instances, one chimp appeared to treat another. The scientists published their observation in the journal Current Biology.

The procedure was similar each time. A chimp caught a flying insect, which was immobilized by being squeezed between the chimp's lips. The insect was placed on the wound and moved around, with the chimp's finger tips.

Then the chimp used its mouth or its fingers to remove the insect. Often, this insect was placed in the wound and removed several times.

The researchers do not know what insect the chimps were using, or how it might help heal a wound.

Even a skeptic found the behaviour remarkable : Aaron Sandel, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, Austin, found the idea of medical function ''a stretch.''

But ''attending to their own wounds or the wounds of others using a tool, another object - that's very rare,'' he said. [ Nicholas Bakalar ]


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