Rain Forest Pharmacy - Medicine from the Jungle | DocFilm | DW | 25.11.2015
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Rain Forest Pharmacy - Medicine from the Jungle

Great apes know how to self-medicate. Bonobos, for instance, treat themselves with plants from the tropical rain forest in which they live. What can humans learn from them?

Watch video 42:45

Rain Forest Pharmacy - Medicine from the Jungle

06.11.2015 DW Doku 7673 Forscherin

Barbara Fruth observes the bonobos and their diet to find out more about the healing properties of medicinal plants in the rain forest.

Scientist Barbara Fruth studies the behavior of bonobos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and compares her observations with the natural remedies used by the Nkundo people, who live in the same forest. It’s believed that her research may contribute to the discovery of a new pharmaceutical substance derived from nature. Initial results confirm that great apes, like humans, know how to use plants found in the rain forest to treat conditions such as gastrointestinal complaints.

At the Technical University of Braunschweig, samples of the Congolese medicinal plants are now being tested for their pharmaceutical effectiveness. A doctoral student in a laboratory in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is also investigating whether a root plant contains a substance that may be effective against malaria.

06.11.2015 DW Doku 7673 Camp

Her research camp is located in a remote corner of the rain forest – all equipment, down to the last pen, must be flown in.

Barbara Fruth has been observing the behavior of the bonobos for 16 years now. Together with her husband, she founded a research camp on site in 2002. To find out more about the rain forest pharmacy, she has collected and categorized thousands of different local plants. Her remote research camp has provided a unique opportunity to observe the bonobos without disturbing their natural behaviors and habitat. But the work that Fruth and an international team of researchers have been carrying deep in the rain forest is a race against time.

06.11.2015 DW Doku 7673 Suche

Barbara Fruth makes sure to keep her distance so that she doesn’t disturb the great apes in their natural habitat.

The only natural habitat of the bonobos is the Congolese rain forest. It was once home to 100,000 of the great apes, but today it’s estimated that only 30,000 remain. The bonobos are increasingly falling prey to poachers, and their habitat is being destroyed by slash-and-burn farming. One day the apes' medical knowledge could be lost forever.

What can humans learn from the bonobo apes?

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