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Chemical Sciences in Development

What We Do: Zoopharmacognosy

Zoopharmacognosy: Clues to Potential New Medicines from Animal Behaviour
Zoopharmacognosy is concerned with studies of animal behaviour in which animals are observed to ingest certain plants that are not normally part of their diet but which seem to confer some kind of health benefit of either a preventative or curative nature. The field is a relatively new one, the term having been coined 1 in the early 1990s. Whilst evidence is sometimes circumstantial, there is a growing body of literature to support the idea that self-medication by animals is undertaken; and that potential therapeutic benefits to the animals can be linked to the presence of biologically active compounds in the plants ingested.2-5 For example, the consumption of particular leaves by wild chimpanzees seems to be beneficial in reducing nematode infections.6
One particular aspect of such studies that has attracted attention is the possibility that they may provide clues to potential new substances with pharmacological activities that could be used in human medicine. There is, of course, a long tradition in human medicine of using natural products (compounds known as ‘secondary metabolites’) from plant sources - about a third of all currently used pharmaceutical compounds have their origins in such compounds.
IOCD's Zoopharmacognosy Project
One of the outstanding young researchers in the field is Prof. Sabrina Krief, who works at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris. Trained in veterinary medicine, Prof. Krief's doctoral thesis was on chemical and biological studies of secondary metabolites in plants used by chimpanzees in Uganda.7 Subsequently, she has published numerous studies on self-medication in non-human primates, including the identification of substances with antibacterial, anti-malarial and/or antileishmania activities.8
Prof. Sabrina Krief is currently collaborating with IOCD in a Zoopharmacognosy Project, which aims to highlight the value of studies of self-medication in animals as a valuable source of information on plants with potential medicinal active ingredients for use in human beings.


  1. E. Rodriguez, R. Wrangham, (1993). Zoopharmacognosy: The use of medicinal plants by animals. Phytochemical Potential of Tropical Plants 1993, 27, 89-105.
  2. G.A. Lozano. Parasitic stress and self-medication in wild animals. Advances in the Study of Behavior 1998, 27, 291-317.
  3. C. Engel. Wild Health: How Animals Keep Themselves Well and What We Can Learn from Them. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2002.
  4. M.A. Ansari et al. A Review on Zoopharmacognosy. Int. J. Pharmaceutical and Chemical Sciences 2013, 2, 246-253.
  5. T. Khan et al. Zoopharmacognosy and epigenetic behavior of mountain wildlife towards Berberis species. Life Science Journal 2014, 11, 259-63.
  6. B. Fruth et al. New Evidence for Self-Medication in Bonobos: Manniophyton fulvum Leaf-and Stemstrip-Swallowing From LuiKotale, Salonga National Park, DR Congo. American J. Primatology 2014, 76, 146-58.
  7. S. Krief. Métabolites secondaires des plantes et comportement animal: surveillance sanitaire et observations de l'alimentation des chimpanzées (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) en Ouganda. Activitées biologiques et étude chimique de plantes consommées. Life Sciences. Muséum national d'histoire naturelle - MNHN PARIS, 2003, 349pp.
  8. S. Krief et al.. Bioactive properties of plant species ingested by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) in the Kibale National Park, Uganda. American J. Primatology 2006, 68, 51-71.
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