Most of my adult life, over the past three decades, has been dedicated to researching and observing how animals heal themselves across a wide range of species, from companion animals to kangaroos, polar bears, brown bears, elephants, tigers, rhinos and primates. I believe that from applied zoopharmacognosy, a new branch of ethology has developed which takes a new look into the causes of behavioural problems seen in domestic, companion and captive animals.
Back in the nineteen eighties I discovered that companion animals could communicate their health needs via offering them aromatic plant extracts – it was an amazing breakthrough. They could let us know which plant medicines they needed, and if they did, where they needed it, and dosed themselves accordingly.
Horses were my initial teachers. I found their body language easy to read, and they were very clear about the exact plant extracts they required. Very soon, patterns began to emerge: horses with separation anxiety mainly selected neroli; those who were wounded chose yarrow and those requiring pain relief opted for remedies such as wintergreen, arnica and St John’s wort.
From here I began observing how wild animals self-medicate, and took this information to domestic and companion animals, giving them the freedom to use their same innate capabilities to heal themselves. Many of you will familiar with the story of my German Shepherd dog (GSD) Gunner who was bitten by a rattlesnake and who had not responded to the anti-venom drip and was dying, but made an amazingly quick recovery as soon as he took the remedies.
It was the beginning of what is now known as a new science. I coined the term ‘Applied Zoopharmacognosy’ to describe the process of bringing a rich pharmacopoeia of natural remedies to animals who are not free to forage. I continued the scientific study of essential oils with leaders in the field, as well as the study of pharmacokinetics and pharmacology in relation to plant and animal health. The Ingraham Academy of Applied Zoopharmacognosy was set up to help raise awareness further among vets, zoos, sanctuaries and pet-parents around the world.
My work soon expanded to orphaned elephants in Kenya at the Sheldrick Trust. I worked with Shimba who was orphaned at six weeks old. This little elephant was relatively reclusive, so I offered neroli essential oil, which my research had shown is often selected when an animal has experienced a loss of some kind. Shimba gently inhaled the oil following its aroma with his trunk, and gradually he climbed onto my lap. This was the point at which Dame Daphne Sheldrick MBE and her daughter Angelia saw the value of the work and it wasn’t long before I was back to help Sinya.
As the founder of Applied Zoopharmacognosy I set up a training academy in 1997. Later, I took the work all over the world, both teaching and lecturing to countries and continents such as Australia, America, Hong Kong, and Europe. My friend and colleague Michael Huffman, associate Professor at Kyoto University invited me to speak at a conference in South Korea alongside other scientists interested in self-medication. I also talked at Born Free whose founder is Virginia McKenna. This led me to another friend and colleague Ian Redmond OBE who invited me to become a member of the Primate Society of Great Britain. He then asked if I would lecture to Zoology undergraduates at Bristol University. More recently I spoke to undergraduates at the Zoological Society at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, London.
I have trained staff and worked with a number of charities including Battersea Dogs and Cats Home as well as the RSPCA.
Caroline speaks at the Hay Literary Festival and on BBC Radio 4
Extract from the Hay Festival: The zoopharmacognosy expert explains her ideas. “From the humble caterpillar to the mighty elephant, animals have an innate ability to forage for plant and mineral extracts in order to look after their own emotional and physical health. Domestic dogs are no different. Many canine behavioural problems are not rooted in past emotional trauma but in physical discomfort. You can enrich their lives by offering many of these naturally foraged extracts for self-selection.”