News Worms
News Worms

Scientists announce discovery of third orangutan species

Scientists announce discovery of third orangutan species

To investigate the find, the researchers conducted an extensive DNA study of the orangutans, sequencing the genomes of 37 individual animals.

The decades-long research had a breakthrough in 2013 when scientists involved in conservation efforts in an area of North Sumatra province known as the Batang Toru ecosystem recovered parts of a skeleton from an adult male orangutan killed by local residents. The designation of this group as distinct from Sumatran orangutans means that they are a very small population of their own, and also that there are 800 fewer Sumatran orangutans than before.

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.

The Tapanuli orangutan or Pongo tapanuliensis has been named as a new species found in Sumatra, Indonesia, based on research from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK), Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (LIPI), Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB) and various other parties.

Scientists weren't sure the unique orangutan population existed until 1997.

"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. It's very likely Tapanuli orangutans are the direct descendants of the initial orangutans that had migrated from mainland Asia, and we just barely found them now.

Other than humans, the surviving great ape species today number six: chimpanzees, bonobos, eastern and western gorillas, and Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. They found that the Tapanuli population had become isolated from other Sumatran orangutan populations sometime in the last 10,000 to 20,000 years.

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

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

Professor Serge Wich, of Liverpool John Moores University, who provided ecological expertise to the study, said: "It is incredibly exciting that a new orangutan species has been described and it's a wonderful addition to Indonesia's high biodiversity".

"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.

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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