Tapanuli: A Third Orangutan Species Exists

Steve Phelps
November 4, 2017

Quoted from the written statement of KLHK, Friday (11/3/2017), the Tapanuli orangutan has a population number of less than 800 with a very slow breeding time.

A new species of orang utan has been discovered in the remote jungles of Indonesia, immediately becoming the world's most endangered great ape, researchers said on Thursday.

Researchers named the Tapanuli orangutan Pongo tapanuliensis and described the new species in a paper published this week in the journal Current Biology.

The new species lives further south than the known range for Sumatran orang-utans and, although there had been rumours about an unusual troop in the area, the population was not recorded until 1997.

Orangutans are native to Indonesian forests, though their populations have been in steady decline in recent years due to rampant deforestation. The first hints suggesting the orangutans belonged to a distinct new species surfaced in 2013, when scientists examined the skull of an orangutan male killed in the area.

The Tapanuli orang utan species became isolated from its Sumatran relatives about 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, eventually settling in the Batang Toru forest. Previously, science has recognized six great ape species: Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.

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"The Batang Toru orangutans appear to be direct descendants of the initial orangutans that had migrated from mainland Asia, and thus constitute the oldest evolutionary line within the genus Pongo", says one of the team, evolutionary biologist Alexander Nater from the University of Zurich.

"It is imperative that all remaining forest be protected and that a local management body works to ensure the protection of the Batang Toru ecosystem", Novak said.

One of the researchers, biological anthropologist Colin Groves from the Australian National University in Canberra hails the team's achievement. "Humans are conducting a vast global experiment, but we have near-zero understanding of what impacts this really has, and how it could ultimately undermine our own survival". "All conservation efforts must focus on protecting the species' environment", Michael Krutzen of UZH, who was principal author of the study, said in the statement.

The analysis revealed that the new species split away from the others around 3.3 million years ago.

Sadly, only 800 Tapanuli orangutans are known to exist, making them the least numerous of all great apes and possibly warranting a classification of being critically endangered. That makes it the most endangered great ape in the world, the researchers wrote.

It's especially surprising that scientists were able to find this species of ape, because apes are among the most well-studied animals on the planet.

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