New Species Of Orangutan Discovered

Posted on November 14th 2017

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Scientists studying a tiny population of orangutans in the Northern part of Sumatra have discovered a new species of great ape. Great apes are a group that include humans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, with orangutans being the most distant relatives of human beings. Until the latest discovery, there have only been two distinct orangutan species, the Bornean and the Sumatran. Now apparently, there is a third species of orangutan.

The discovery is exciting

Serge Wich a researcher from Liverpool John Moores University said the discovery was extremely exciting. He added that it was quite a shock to find a new species given the fact that Sumatran orangutans can be found less than 100 kilometres away. Unfortunately, the concern is how long the new species will be able to survive. The population consists of less than 800 individuals that are believed to be spread across 1,000 square kilometres. This makes it the great ape species with the lowest head count and the population faces the threat of habitat destruction and illegal trade.

Species threatened

Dr Wich says the area in which the species lives has a goldmine, many of the villagers hunt and there is also a hydroelectric power plant being planned in the region. The new species is being called the Tapanuli orangutan and is named after the part of Northern Sumatra where the apes live. Reports of orangutans living in the area date back to the 1930’s, however it was not until 1997 that the scientists rediscovered the apes and began to study them again.

The new species branched off about half a million years ago

The researchers analysed the genomes of 37 orangutans across the entire region which allowed them to develop an evolutionary family tree. The results suggest that orangutans which live to the North of Lake Toba split from the Southern population of ancestral orangutans that had arrived from mainland Asia and the split took place about 3.4 million years ago. Another split in the population living South of Lake Toba took place about 674,000 years ago which led to the establishment of the Bornean Orangutan as well as the species that has been newly discovered which, like their ancestors also live South of Lake Toba.

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