Medicine

New species of orangutan is identified and in danger

New species of orangutan is identified and in danger

A new orangutan species has been found living in Sumatra, occupying an isolation location in the northern portion of the island.

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

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.

Then, in 2013 the scientists lucked out with a complete skeleton of an adult male orangutan which had died in a fight with some local villagers. Photo: Nater et al.

The university statement said that a previous study combined with the new genome sequencing of 37 orangutans showed a picture that was consistent with the morphological findings.

This is a photograph of Pongo tapanuliensis.

They believe the three types of orangutans share a common ancestor but began to diverge into different species about 3.4 million years ago.

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.

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In a paper, which was published in the journal Current Biology on November 2, researchers identified Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) as a new species of great ape after comparing its skeleton and genomes to those belonging to other orangutan species.

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".

Following the discovery of the skeletal material, believed to have come from a Tapanuli orangutan killed in a human-animal conflict in 2013, an worldwide team of researchers set out to understand more about the distant ape relative of humans.

P. tapanuliensis has only just been identified as a new species, but it already faces severe risk of extinction.

But its tiny population is under severe threat from mining, agricultural encroachment, illegal logging and a proposed hydroelectric dam, which would flood up to 8 per cent of its habitat.

"It's a very significant discovery", says Professor Groves, from the ANU School of Archeology and Anthropology.

Wiratno, the director general of conservation of natural resources and ecosystems at Indonesia's Forestry and Environment Ministry, told a news conference in Jakarta that most of Batang Toru forest was designated as protected in December 2015.

The paper announcing the discovery is titled "Morphometric, behavioral, and genomic evidence for a new orangutan species" and it appears online Thursday in the journal Current Biology.


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