The Pongo tapanuliensis also called the Tapanuli orangutans, is a newly discovered species of great ape that is already facing extinction risks, with only 800 of them left in the wild.
These orangutans have recently been identified as being a separate, individual species. Rumours about their possible existence first emerged in the 1990s. Then, the first specimen was discovered in November 2013, when one came into conflict with villagers in North Sumatra’s South Tapanuli District.
This Great Ape, the Oldest Among its Relatives
Specialists then examined its skull by placing it besides 34 others. In doing so, the scientists determined that it represented a different breed from the Sumatran and Bornean species. They reached this conclusion based on its small size and shallower, more angled face, among many other smaller details.
Aside from the face, Tapanuli orangutans look quite similar to their Sumatran cousins in body type but are frizzier. Also, the males’ cheek pads, known as flanges, resemble a Borean orangutan. Females have beards, unlike Borneans, and males have a distinctive, longer shout than the other breeds.
With this newly identified breed, there are now eight species of living great ape. These are the three orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and of course, humans.
Of the eight kinds, the Tapanuli orangutan has the smallest population and thus are the most endangered. Even the Mountain gorillas, a subspecies of the eastern breed, are safer, according to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.
Many of their extinction risks come from humans. These either hunt them, capture them for trade or fight them off to protect their crops. They also threaten the Tapanuli orangutan’s habitat in the Batang Toru forest. In fact, a plan to build a hydroelectric plant could deprive them of a full 8 percent of their remaining space.
“A combination of small population size and geographic isolation is of particular high conservation concern, as it may lead to inbreeding,” wrote the study paper about them, released in the journal Current Biology.
The research team also adds, in its report, that conservation methods are needed quickly.
Image Source: Wikimedia