Primate Self-Medication, Passive Prevention and Active Treatment - A Brief Review

Michael A Huffman


Parasites and pathogens are a source of diseases that can affect the health, behavior and reproductive fitness of an individual. The study of animal self-medication as a science is relatively new, but traditional societies have long looked to animals for clues to nature’s medicine cabinet. Evidence of self-medication is widespread throughout the animal kingdom. To date, research has classified health maintenance and self-medicative behaviors into five levels: 1) ‘sick behaviors’; 2) behavioral avoidance or reduction of the possibility for
disease transmission; 3) dietary selection of items with a preventative or health maintenance effect; 4) ingestion of a substance for the curative treatment of a disease or the symptoms thereof, and; 5) application of a substance to the body or a living space for the treatment or control of vectors or external health condition. Among the groups of animals studied to date, primates have provided the most details for level 3 and 4 behaviors, exemplified by such diverse dietary selection and behaviors as bitter pith chewing and whole leaf swallowing behaviors, used directly in response to increased levels of parasite infection.

KEYWORDS: Animal self-medication, primates, medicinal plants, disease control, homeostasis

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International Journal of multidisciplinary Studies, University of Sri Jayewardnepura, Sri Lanka