New Orangutan species 'among most threatened great apes'

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

The species, called Tapanuli orang utan, lives in the Batang Toru forest on Sumatra island, and numbers about 800. Fewer than 800 individuals is already a very small number, and dangers like hunting and the loss of its lowland habitat threaten its survival.

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). It combined new genome sequencing of 37 orangutans with previous study results that also showed three lineages.

A scientific paper has confirmed that a new species of primate has been discovered in the forests of Sumatra: the Tapanulis orangutan, which adds to the family of the six known species of great apes.

An worldwide team of researchers from 34 institutions, led by anthropologist Alexander Nater of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, pursued two lines of evidence to determine if the ape colony was different enough from the two already acknowledged orangutan species - known as the Bornean and Sumatran - to be defined as a third.

Computer models of their history suggests that the Tapanuli population has been completely isolated from other groups for at least 10,000 to 20,000 years.

"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 orang-utans appear to be direct descendants of the initial orang-utans that had migrated from mainland Asia, and thus constitute the oldest evolutionary line within the genus Pongo", Alexander Nater, of the University of Zurich said.

"Great apes are among the best-studied species in the world", says one of the team, Erik Meijaard from the Australian National University.

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

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

"When we realized that Batang Toru orangutans are morphologically different from all other orangutans, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place", said Michael Krützen, a professor at the University of Zurich and a member of the research team.

A new species of orangutan has been found hidden from the rest of the world in remote jungle in Indonesia.

"It is crucial that we work to conserve the forest, because if we do not take the steps needed to protect the Tapanuli orang-utans, we could see their discovery and extinction within our lifetime", Dr Benoit said. "All conservation efforts must focus on protecting the species' environment".

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