Are Wild Orangutans Self-Medicating Their Burn Wounds?

The Powers of Pantung

Text by: Eko Prasetyo, BMP (Best Management Practices) Staff
Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

MARCH 17, 2016 — Under clear November skies, I last year joined the BOS Foundation’s Nyaru Menteng team and the Mawas Conservation Program to undertake a large-scale rescue mission in Kapuas, Central Kalimantan. It was both a privilege and an honour to work with the team. Together we managed to save 39 orangutans and translocate them to a safer part of the forest. (Read the full story here: Even Orangutans in Conservation Forests are Still Under Threat…)

We saw an overlay of burnt trees and embers still alight on our mission to this part of Mawas, which is a natural habitat for orangutans and many other wild species. Carefully, the team searched the remaining forest area, looking for trapped orangutans. Several orangutans we rescued had burn marks on them.


Burn marks on orangutans were mostly to their feet and hands.

Burn marks on orangutans were mostly to their feet and hands.

Our accompanying vets provided much-needed medical treatment for the injured orangutans. Lacking medical knowledge, I could only observe and imagine the difficulty these vets faced in providing emergency treatment for injured, wild orangutans. It was truly amazing to see them in action.


During one rescue, our medical team was treating a burn wound on a male orangutan when we noticed there was pantung sap covering the wound. Could it be that wild orangutans use the sap of the pantung tree, known locally as jelutung, to treat their own burn wounds? We hope this discovery will inspire researchers to undertake deeper studies on the medicinal properties of pantung sap.

Pantung sap attached to the body of an orangutan suffering from burns.

Pantung sap attached to the body of an orangutan suffering from burns.

Pantung (Dyera constulata) is a tropical tree that can be tapped for latex, which is used in the production of rubber or lacquer. Local residents use pantung as an adhesive in boat building or for handicrafts. The pantung tree, which can reach a diameter of two meters and height of 40 meters, is also used to make furniture.

Pantung tree

Pantung tree

It seems pantung is a very versatile and useful tree for orangutans; they not only appear to use the sap to treat wounds, but also consume its bark and young leaves. Orangutans also love to build their nests up in pantung trees.

With its seemingly limitless biodiversity, the forest is one of the world’s greatest sources of natural medicine. Forests also absorb rainfall and prevent flooding to human populations living in surrounding areas, and serve many other purposes for man. Clearing forests through slash-and-burn methods not only destroys the forest’s equilibrium, but also causes irreversible damage to the atmosphere.

The Orangutans Need Your Help!

Please make a donation to BOS Nyaru Menteng today!

Donate to BOS Nyaru Menteng via PayPal