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04 November 2017, 12:26 | Camille Rivera
The Tapanuli orangutan. Image credit Tim Laman
Anton Nurcahyo, a PhD scholar with the ANU School of Archeology and Anthropology, undertook a morphology study of the only known specimen of the apes which, combined with a genomic analysis, confirmed the group as a new third species of orangutan.
Puji Rianti, a researcher from Bogor Agricultural University, told Anadolu Agency that these physical differences were one of the reasons these orangutans were declared a separate species.
Yet these apes have always been overlooked in favor of Sumatran orangutans that live in swampy forests north of the Tapanuli population. Fewer than 800 individuals is already a very small number, and dangers like hunting and the loss of its lowland habitat threaten its survival.
A new species of orang utan has been discovered in the remote jungles of Indonesia, immediately becoming the world's most endangered great ape, researchers said on Thursday. Previously, scientists have recognized six great ape species: Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.
Following the discovery of the skeletal material, believed to have come from a Tapanuli orangutan killed in a human-animal conflict in 2013, an global team of researchers set out to understand more about the distant ape relative of humans. The first clue that P. tapanuliensis was a species all on its own came from the skull of a male killed in 2013, which showed different characteristics of the teeth and the skull itself.
"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. Historically, the population had low levels of interbreeding with Sumatran orangutans further north but that completely ceased 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, according to the genetic study.
They also found that the Tapanuli's orangutan's lineage was ancient - between 3 million and 3 1/2 million years old - and that they appeared to be direct descendants of the orangutan ancestors that crossed into what is now Indonesia and Malaysia from mainland Asia.
It's quite exciting to hear about the discovery of a new great ape species in the 21st century.
"It is imperative that all remaining forest be protected and that a local management body works to ensure the protection of the Batang Toru ecosystem", Novak said.
It is the most endangered of the now seven known species of great apes.
One of the researchers, biological anthropologist Colin Groves from the Australian National University in Canberra hails the team's achievement. There is also a new species that needs protection.
It's especially surprising that scientists were able to find this species of ape, because apes are among the most well-studied animals on the planet.
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