FILM: Wolves and Zoopharmacognosy

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Now Zoopharmacognosy may sound like a real mouthful and a word that perhaps most people have never come across, but its one that is so extremely interesting once you scrape the skin off the surface and take a peek inside.

The term “zoopharmacognosy” was derived from the Greek: zoo (“animal”), pharma (“drug”), and gnosy (“knowing”)in nature and can be explained as ‘a behaviour in which non-human animals apparently self-medicate by selecting and ingesting or topically applying plants, soils, insects, and psychoactive drugs to prevent or reduce the harmful effects of pathogens and toxins’.

We have all seen our dogs eating grass when they look unwell or want to induce vomiting, but there are other really interesting things that animals do to ‘self-medicate’ in the wild. Chimpanzees sometimes select bitter leaves for chewing. Parasite infection drops noticeably after chimpanzees chew leaves of pith (Vernonia amyddalina), which have anti-parasitic activity against schistosoma, plasmodium and Leishmania. African elephants  apparently self-medicate to induce birth by chewing on the leaves of a particular tree from the family Boraginaceae; Kenyan women have copied this and now brew a tea from this tree to induce childbirth.

So what has Zoopharmacognosy got to do with anything us humans do? Well some people have harnessed this ability for animals to tap into their 6th sense and have applied this as an alternative treatment for animals. The practice started by treating  animals easy to work with such as dogs, but has since progressed onto some more challenging creatures.

One lady who dabbles in this practice is Dr Isla Fishburn of Kachina Canine Communication. Isla has been practising on dogs for a while now and possesses a qualification in this controversial practice. She mentioned in passing that she has tried this on wolves and being a huge wolf advocate, I had to see this for myself, so we met at WolfWatchUK where she demonstrated this incredibly interesting treatment on an 18 year old wolf called Madadh, who had been suffering with cancer for the last 18 months. Being 18 years, WolfWatchUK founder Tony Haighway has decided to allow the cancer to take its course, as its far more stressful for any invasive surgery at this point, but this didn’t mean that Zoopharmacognosy was out of the question.

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