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Zoopharmacognosy refers to the process by which animals self-medicate, by selecting and using plants, soils, and insects to treat and prevent disease. Coined by Dr. Eloy Rodriguez, a biochemist and professor at Cornell Universitymarker, the word is derived from roots zoo ("animal"), pharma ("drug"), and gnosy ("knowing").

Observers have noticed that some species ingest non-foods, such as toxic plants, clay or charcoal, to ward off parasitic infestation or poisoning. For example, Jane Goodall has seen chimpanzees eating certain bushes to make themselves sick. Some Brazilian parrots eat kaolin (a form of clay).

Illustrating the medicinal knowledge of some species, apes have been observed selecting a particular part of a medicinal plant by taking off leaves, then breaking the stem to suck out the juice. In an interview with Neil Campbell, Rodriguez describes the importance of biodiversity to medicine:
Some of the compounds we've identified by zoopharmacognosy kill parasitic worms, and some of these chemicals may be useful against tumors. There is no question that the templates for most drugs are in the natural world.


Two observations have been made by William Astor regarding the self-medicative behavior of Estrildid finches of several species:1. Estrildid finches in captivity of several different species have been observed to correctly target appropriate antibiotics out of a range made available to them through which they were able to cure themselves of life threatening diseases ( as opposed to relatively minor ailments like indigestion.)2. Estrildid finches in captivity of several different species do not learn this self-medicative behavior from their parents or others in the flock through social learning like apes and chimpanzees are suspected of doing. This ability of Estrildid finches seems to be innate but as to how they can do it is a complete mystery.

A female capuchin monkey in captivity was observed using tools covered in a sugar-based syrup to groom her wounds and those of her infant.

Notes

  1. Gerber, Suzanne. "Not just monkeying around", Vegetarian Times, November 1998.
  2. Biser, Jennifer A. (1998). "Really Wild Remedies — Medicinal Plant Use by Animals." Smithsonian National Zoological Park website; accessed on 2005-01-13. (provides several examples)
  3. Biology (4th edition). N.A. Campbell, p.23 'An Interview with Eloy Rodriguez' (Benjamin Cummings NY, 1996) ISBN 0-8053-1957-3
  4. Astor, William (2008) The Finch Self-Medication Website
  5. G. Westergaard and D. Fragaszy: Self-treatment of wounds by a capuchin monkey (Cebus apella). Human Evolution 1987, 2(6):557-56
  6. Bill G. Ritchie, Dorothy M. Fragaszy: Capuchin monkey (Cebus apella) grooms her infant's wound with tools. American Journal of Primatology 1988, 16(4):345-348


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