Cover image for Wild health : how animals keep themselves well and what we can learn from them
Wild health : how animals keep themselves well and what we can learn from them
Engel, Cindy.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Physical Description:
x, 276 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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QL756.6 .E54 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This is the first book on a fascinating new field in biology -- zoopharmacognosy, or animal self-medication -- and its lessons for humans. When Rachel Carson published SILENT SPRING, few people knew the meaning of the word "ecology." Even fewer people today probably know the meaning of "zoopharmacognosy." But that is about to change. In WILD HEALTH, Cindy Engel explores the extraordinary range of ways animals keep themselves healthy, carefully separating scientifically verifiable fact fromfolklore, hard data from daydreams. As with holistic medicine for humans, there turns out to be more fact in folklore than was previously thought.
How do animals keep themselves healthy? They eat plants that have medicinal properties. They select the right foods for a nutritionally balanced diet, often doing a better job of it than humans do. Animals even seek out psychoactive substances -- they get drunk on fermented fruit, hallucinate on mushrooms, become euphoric with opium poppies. They also manipulate their own reproduction with plant chemistry, using some plants as aphrodisiacs and others to enhance fertility. WILD HEALTH includes scores of remarkable examples of the ways animals medicate themselves.
- Desert tortoises will travel miles to mine and eat the calcium needed to keep their shells strong.
- Monkeys, bears, coatis, and other animals rub citrus oils and pungent resins into their coats as insecticides and antiseptics against insect bites.
- Chimpanzees swallow hairy leaves folded in a certain way to purge their digestive tracts of parasites.
- Birds line their nests with plants that protect their chicks from blood-draining mites and lice.
In other words, animals try to keep themselves healthy in many of the same ways humans do; in fact, much of early human medicine, including many practices being revived today as "alternative medicine," arose through observations of animals. And, as WILD HEALTH, animals still have a lot to teach us. We could use a little more wild health ourselves.

Author Notes

She has done research on the health of wild animals as well as on holistic medicine for humans. She is a lecturer in environmental sciences at the Open University. She lives in Suffolk, England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

A timely treatise for a health-obsessed culture, this book takes the idea of "natural remedies" quite literally. Engel, a lecturer in environmental sciences at the U.K. Open University, has compiled a wealth of fascinating laboratory studies and field observations on how animals treat and prevent diseases. Eschewing pseudomystical assertions about the innate wisdom of beasts, the author bases her assertions on scientific premises. For millennia, humans have observed animals in the wild eating plants and minerals and applying naturally occurring topical antitoxins from the same sources to combat infectious wounds, parasites and internal disorders. Herds of elephants risk injury and death in a perilous journey to hidden salt caves where they supplement their sodium deficient diets. Monkeys rub poisonous millipedes on their fur to repel biting, disease-carrying insects. Birds line their nests with parasite-resistant herbs. Engel details a world where nature is the pharmacy and every animal is its own practitioner. The reader also learns about the inbred weaknesses unintentionally visited upon domesticated animals through centuries of faulty genetic tampering by humans. Engel notes that the implications of all this for human health are sadly familiar: our biggest killers today (cancer, heart disease) result from unhealthy eating. Animals in the wild stay remarkably fit because they stick to a diet for which they were adapted, while human beings are ill-equipped to handle our current predilection for dairy, grains and processed foods. Occasionally, Engel lapses into apocalyptic rhetoric about the ravages of technology, which gets in the way of her otherwise clear-sighted and crisp narrative. Nevertheless, this is an engaging book that will enlighten those interested in health, biology, environment and animal behavior. Photos. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Birds do it, bees do it, and animals of every stripe seem to know how to forage for plants and minerals that will promote health. The author is a leading researcher in zoopharmascognosy, or animal self-medication. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 HEALTH IN THE WILD The multitude of the sick shall not make us deny the existence of health. - Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1860The herbalist Juliette de Baracli Levy has spent much of her long life observing the way animals keep themselves well in the wild. In one of her many books she writes, "Everywhere in the woods one observes the wild animals rearing their young in health and freedom from sickness."1 But this view is considered naively romantic by wildlife health experts. Although an animal may seem healthy on the surface, it may harbor diseases and parasites that drain its resources and can flare up should resistance falter momentarily. Furthermore, the animals we see are the survivors, disease and death having filtered out the less healthy. The wild animal, from this perspective, fights a perennial battle with sickness and disease. Which view is correct-the romantic vision of a healthy and harmoniously balanced ecosystem, or the survivalist vision of a ruthless, endless battle with death and disease? Paradoxically, the two views are not as diametrically opposed as they might first appear. When we see a beautiful swan glide across still water, the movement appears effortless; the swan seems calm and untroubled, even serene. An observer below the water, however, would see that the swan is working hard: muscles are contracting and relaxing; legs and webbed feet are pumping, pushing water aside with great effort. So it is with wild health. While an animal may appear to glide effortlessly through lifes troubled waters, a continuous struggle for survival goes on, largely unseen. One perspective, then, is that behind a faade of blissful, harmonious balance, each and every organism is working to maintain its health and to survive. Another perspective is that the struggle and selective survival actually create the impression of harmony. I find no conflict in being able to see both the struggle and the balance in the same vista, but evidently the answer to the seemingly straightforward question "How healthy are wild animals?" is influenced by the perspective of the observer. Most of us gain our impressions of health in the wild primarily from the news media-and news about wildlife, like news about anything, is seldom good news. Currently, wildlife health makes grim reading. Seal and dolphin populations in the Mediterranean and Baltic seas, and in the coastal waters of the United States, have been seriously affected by major disease outbreaks. It looks as if the butylins used to protect the hulls of ships from barnacles and such are the main culprits. These biocidal chemicals damage mammalian immune systems, lowering resistance to disease and cancers. Meanwhile, harbor porpoises in the English Channel and southern North Sea are sickened by the high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenols and mercury in their waters. And a global epidemic of mysterious tumors affecting endangered sea turtles is linked to the pollution of their w Excerpted from Wild Health: How Animals Keep Themselves Well and What We Can Learn from Them by Cindy Engel All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
I. Living Wild
1. Health in the Wildp. 7
2. Nature's Pharmacyp. 16
3. Food, Medicine, and Self-Medicationp. 24
4. Information for Survivalp. 39
II. Health Hazards
5. Poisonsp. 51
6. Microscopic foesp. 76
7. Gaping Wounds and Broken Bonesp. 92
8. Mites, Bites, and Itchesp. 109
9. Reluctant Hosts, Unwelcome Guestsp. 129
10. Getting Highp. 151
11. Psychological Illsp. 166
12. Family Planningp. 177
13. Facing the Inevitablep. 188
14. What We Know so Farp. 202
III. Lessons We Might Learn
15. Animals in Our Carep. 211
16. Healthy Intentionsp. 224
Notesp. 233
Indexp. 262