High Frequency of Leaf Swallowing and Its Relationship to Intestinal Parasite Expulsion in “Village” Chimpanzees at Bulindi, Uganda

Type Journal Article - American Journal of Primatology
Title High Frequency of Leaf Swallowing and Its Relationship to Intestinal Parasite Expulsion in “Village” Chimpanzees at Bulindi, Uganda
Volume 74
Issue 7
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2012
Page numbers 642-650
URL https://radar.brookes.ac.uk/radar/file/10b750c2-1755-afd0-4556-1940ed8e1017/1/McLennan & Huffman​2012. Chimp Leaf-swallowing & parasite expulsion [Am J Primatol].pdf
Self-medication by great apes to control intestinal parasite infections has been documented at sites across Africa. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) swallow the leaves of certain plant species whole, without chewing. Previous studies demonstrated a relationship between chimpanzee leaf swallowing and expulsion of nematode worms (Oesophagostomum sp.) and tapeworms (Bertiella sp.) in dung. We investigated the relationship between leaf swallowing and parasite expulsion in chimpanzees inhabiting a fragmented forest–farm mosaic at Bulindi, Uganda. During 13 months whole undigested leaves occurred in chimpanzee dung at a considerably higher frequency (10.4% of dungs) than at other sites (0.4–4.0%). Leaf swallowing occurred year-round and showed no pronounced seasonality. Chimpanzees egested adults of multiple species of Oesophagostomum (including O. stephanostomum) and proglottids of two tapeworms—Bertiella sp. and probably Raillietina sp. The latter may not be a true infection, but the byproduct of predation on domestic fowl. Compared to previous studies, the co-occurrence of whole leaves and parasites in chimpanzee dung was low. Whereas the presence of leaves in dung increased the probability of adult nematode expulsion, no association between leaf swallowing and the shedding of tapeworm proglottids was apparent. Anthropogenic habitat changes have been linked to alterations in host–parasite interactions. At Bulindi, deforestation for agriculture has increased contact between apes and people. Elevated levels of leaf swallowing could indicate these chimpanzees are especially vulnerable to parasite infections, possibly due to environmental changes and/or increased stress levels arising from a high frequency of contact with humans. Frequent self-medication by chimpanzees in a high-risk environment could be a generalized adaptation to multiple parasite infections that respond differently to the behavior. Future parasitological surveys of apes and humans at Bulindi are needed for chimpanzee health monitoring and management, and to investigate the potential for disease transmission among apes, people, and domestic animals.

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