New orang utan species found in Indonesia

by Dominic Parks November 4, 2017, 0:24
New orang utan species found in Indonesia

Found living in the forests of North Sumatra in Indonesia, the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) was originally considered to be part of the Sumatran orangutan population, but the discovery of a separate species means it is considered the most endangered of all great ape species.

This prompted the researchers to conduct what they called the "largest genomic study of wild orangutans to date", comparing the genes from the recovered orangutan with data collected in the past from other field sites on Sumatra.

The team argues that the orangutans they've found in the small forest of Batang Toru are "a geographically and genetically isolated population" living further south from the existing range of Sumatran orangutans.

Last year, the IUCN classified Bornean orangutans as critically endangered due to a precipitous population decline caused by destruction of their forest habitat for palm oil and pulp wood plantations.

A team led by experts at the University of Zurich in Switzerland has now established that those orangutans are a distinct third species from the two established species - the Bornean and the Sumatran orangutans, the Daily Mail noted.

An worldwide team of researchers has named the newly identified species the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), based on the Tapanuli district in northern Sumatra where it lives.

His analysis suggested the Batang Toru population may have been isolated from other Sumatran populations for at least 10-20,000 years.

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Taxonomically, the Tapanuli orangutan is closer related to the Bornean orangutan, which therefore must be separated into its own species and is the ancestor of both the great apes of Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abeli) and the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus).

"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.

"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", Alexander Nater, also of UZH, said in another statement. The team of researchers believes that it is the most endangered of all surviving great apes, with only about 800 left.

All three species of orangutan face dire threats to their populations at the hands of humans.

Erik Meijaard of the Australian National University said: "Great apes are among the best-studied species in the world". This became the holotype - a single specimen which forms the basis for the description of a new species. There is also a new species that needs protection.

"It isn't an everyday event that we find a new species of great ape, so indeed the discovery is very exciting", said Michael Krutzen from the University of Zurich.

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