Abstract # 120:

Scheduled for Monday, June 3, 2002 01:30 PM-02:30 PM: Session 8 (Room 16/17, Cox Convention Center) Featured Speaker

The evolution of medicinal plant use in African great apes and traditional human societies

M. Huffman
University of Kyoto, Section of Ecology, Primate Research Institute, University of Kyoto, Inuyama, Aichi 484-8506, Japan
     Among the African great apes, the ingestion of medicinal plants, also traditionally used widely by human populations, have been shown to act with apparently similar effects. Shared physiological predispositions based upon a evolutionary history activated in response to similar ecological pressures may play a central role in the convergence observed among the great ape species and between apes and humans. Close observation of animals by humans throughout history has also been shown to lead to the discovery and use of new plants as medicine. In this talk, I will discuss the current state of our knowledge of self-medication from collaborative studies across Africa on chimpanzees, bonobos and lowland gorillas and describe some of the evidence for animal origins of traditional medicine. I will also present a case study in progress of one family line of traditional healers in the WaTongwe tribe of western Tanzania, who have developed plant medicines from the observation of animal behavior. This dual approach to the study of the evolution of self-medicative practices in animals and humans may potentially provide new and unique strategies for dealing with disease in humans and livestock living in tropical regions of the world where such behavior has evolved.