BEACON TRANSCRIPT – A team of scientists just added a new member to the great ape family, one that they found living in a Sumatra. The previously unknown species was noted to be living in a small colony and to have an incredibly small number of members, only around 500.
The New Orangutan Species Might Soon Get Listed on the IUCN Red List
The existence of an unknown species of great apes was first hinted at back in 1997. Then, in 2013, researchers discovered the complete skeleton of an adult male orangutan. This was known to have perished in a fight with some local villagers and then became a holotype.
Namely, the skeleton became description basis for a new species, one now known as the Pongo tapanuliensis or the Tapanuli orangutan. Its name takes after the district in northern Sumatra in which it was discovered and lives, Tapanuli.
This newly discovered species lives in the Batang Toru area, and according to the latest research, numbers only around 800 specimens. In-depth analyses revealed significant differences between the jaws and teeth of known orangutans and the new species.
The Tapanuli orangutans are Sumatra’s third known species of great apes, besides the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans.
Further research revealed that the Tapanuli might actually be the eldest among the three species. According to this new study, they are the descendants of a branch that split off from an ‘original orangutan’ species over three million years ago.
“The Batang Toru orangutans appear to be direct descendants of the initial orangutans that had migrated from mainland Asia, and thus constitute the oldest evolutionary line within the genus Pongo,” says Alexander Nater.
He is an evolutionary biologist part of the study team and also of the University of Zurich.
Still, specialists are raising questions about the species’ evolution. Because of their small number of specimens, some consider that this newly discovered orangutan species should be added to the IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species. If so, the species would likely be listed as “Critically Endangered”.
Current study findings and an in-depth analysis of the Tapanuli orangutan is available in the journal Current Biology.
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