New orang utan species found in Indonesia

Pongo Tapanuliensis: Third Orangutan Species Identified, Already Facing Severe Extinction Risk

Pongo Tapanuliensis: Third Orangutan Species Identified, Already Facing Severe Extinction Risk

Morphometric, behavioral, and genomic evidence for a new orangutan species.

"If steps are not taken quickly to reduce current and future threats and to conserve every last remaining bit of forest, a great ape species may become extinct within a few decades", warns Matt Nowak, who supervises research into the Tapanuli orangutans at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.

She also said she hoped it would spark new scientific debate on whether the three subspecies of the Bornean orangutan should themselves be elevated to full species of great ape, in particular the orangutan of eastern Borneo.

The name P. tapanuliensis refers to three north Sumatran districts - North, Central and South Tapanuli - where no more than 800 of these orangutans inhabit several forested areas.

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A team of researchers has identified a previously unrecognised species of orangutan, adding an extra member to the great ape family.

Researchers studied the DNA, skulls and teeth of 33 orang utans killed in human-animal conflict before concluding they had indeed discovered a new species.

"We identified three very old evolutionary lineages among all orangutans, despite only having two species now described", Maja Mattle-Greminger, a postdoctoral researcher at UZH, said in the statement.

They also found that the Tapanuli's orangutan's lineage was ancient - between 3 million and 3 1/2 million years old - and that they appeared to be direct descendants of the orangutan ancestors that crossed into what is now Indonesia and Malaysia from mainland Asia.

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A rumoured population of what are now Tapanuli orangutans was first confirmed to exist in 1997, and primate researchers immediately set to work to figure out whether these orangutans were the same as ones living elsewhere on Sumatra.

Meanwhile Bornean and Sumatran orangutans separated only 700,000 years ago. "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". The paper suggests that a mortality rate of even 1 percent per year could drive this newly identified orangutan species to extinction.

Early research indicated both behavioural and genetic differences, but it wasn't enough to warrant the designation of a new species - since the world only has six great ape species overall, that would be a pretty big deal. The team of researchers believes that it is the most endangered of all surviving great apes, with only about 800 left.

Professor Serge Wich, of Liverpool John Moores University, who provided ecological expertise to the study, said: "It is incredibly exciting that a new orangutan species has been described and it's a wonderful addition to Indonesia's high biodiversity".

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