Dirt-munching helps protect chimps from malaria
January 10, 2008
The health effects of leaves consumed in combination with soil by chimpanzees in the Kibale National Park in Uganda, Sabrina Krief and colleagues found that digested leaves of Trichilia rubescens showed no significant anti-malarial activity when eaten alone. However, when the leaves and soil were digested together, the combination had distinct anti-malarial properties. Further, the researchers found the same soil is used by local people for treating diarrhea.
Wild chimp in Uganda's Kibale forest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
"This overlapping use by humans and apes is interesting from both evolutionary and conservation perspectives - saving apes and their forests is also important for human health," said lead author Krief.
Geophagy has been observed in other species as well. In the Amazon, macaws and other parrots consume clay to detoxify the seeds they eat.
Krief S, Klein N & Fröhlich F (2008). Geophagy: soil consumption enhances the bioactivities of plants eaten by chimpanzees. Naturwissenschaften (DOI 10.1007/s00114-007-0333-0)