Mind Altering Animals
Biology 342 Fall 2014
Adaptive, Mind-opening, or a Waste of Time?
Figure 1. The Banisteriopsis caapi or Yage vine
Yage (banisteriopsis caapi), a vine containing hallucinogenic chemical "Harmaline" and other beta carbolines, is one of the principal ingredients in ayahuasca. It is speculated that its use among humans stems from Amazonian shamanic peoples’ observation of the jaguar chewing the vines leaves caapi and its subsequent ecstatic delirium. Since people who have consumed ayahuasca report spiritual revelations and rebirth, it has been assumed by many that Jaguars consume cappi to experience similar effect. Although, there is little evidence of Jaguars consumption of cappi and it’s subsequent intoxication, there are many reports and some photo-documentation. It is more likely that Jaguars have developed this behavior as it is thought to be somewhat beneficial to their hunting abilities, and helps them cleanse their stomachs. The utilization of a depatterning instrument, or provocative operation, throws consolidated models of behavior into disorder and consequently, opens up a new collection of behaviors that weren’t consistent with learned ones.
Figure 2. Jaguar
Indigenous people even speculate that the vine increases their hunting abilities, buffing their already legendary hunting prowess and visual acuity. Although there is little evidence of Jaguars habitual consumption of cappi, there is some photo-documentation, particularly the BBC series"Weird Nature"’s. The footage shows a jaguar creeping through the Peruvian jungle. The camera occasionally zooms into the it’s eyes, just teeming with primal energy. It roars. Spider monkeys leap into the trees and the birds all take flight. The scene changes and an Attenborough-esk narrator begins to speak in a soft, measured tone- “Cat’s have there own tastes in medicine, just as pet cats eat grass large cats like jaguars eat leaves.” The jaguar runs it’s tongue down a cappi vine, rolling around in apparent ecstasy or what the narrator calls “Playful kittyish behavior.” This account is synonymous with most others, Yage is a big cat’s catnip. However, as appealing as it might seem to simplify this interaction in those terms, the Jaguar has another motivation to chew the caapi vine. In addition to its hallucinogenic effects, Yage is used as purgative by indigenous peoples, as it effectively cleanses the digestive tract of parasites and toxins. Although it isn’t known whether Jaguars too experience this effect, it is more likely that Jaguars relish the plant for its medicinal value, not for it’s mind altering effects.However, if it was to be discovered that Cappi had no discernable medicinal properties on Jaguars, it may be that it provides another pathway to adaptation and survival as Samorini and shamanic peoples predicted. The utilization of Cappi as a “depatterning instrument,” or a “provocative operation,” may be throwing consolidated models of behavior into disorder and consequently, opening up a new collection of behaviors that weren’t previously inaccessible. Perhaps the vine even increases the Jaguars perceptive abilities, as native people predicted.