Found in the Batang Toru ecosystem in the highland forests in three districts of Tapanuli, North Sumatra, this lovely animals are rare and even more endangered than African mountain gorillas.
Last year, the IUCN classified Bornean orangutans as critically endangered due to a precipitous population decline caused by destruction of their forest habitat for palm oil and pulp wood plantations.
The university statement said that a previous study combined with the new genome sequencing of 37 orangutans showed a picture that was consistent with the morphological findings.
Following the discovery of the skeletal material, believed to have come from a Tapanuli orangutan killed in a human-animal conflict in 2013, an worldwide team of researchers set out to understand more about the distant ape relative of humans.
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Before 1997, this isolated population of orangutans in a remote jungle was little more than a myth.
"We identified three very old evolutionary lineages among all orangutans, despite only having two species now described", added Maja Mattle-Greminger, a postdoctoral researcher at UZH.
The discovery brings the count of orangutan species to three, as the Tapanuli orangutan joins the ranks of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, which were only distinguished from each other in 1996. The oldest evolutionary line in the genus Pongo is actually found in Tapanuli orangutans, which appear to be direct descendants of the first Sumatran population in the Sunda archipelago.
The analysis revealed that the new species split away from the others around 3.3 million years ago.
Until the Tapanuli orangutan was described, there were only six official species of nonhuman great ape: chimpanzees, two species of gorillas, bonobos, and two species of orangutan.
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This is a photograph of Pongo tapanuliensis, a newly identified distinct species of orangutans, bringing the total number of non-human great apes to seven.
Tragically, the new addition to the hominid family is already on its way out.
Skeletal and genetic evidence puts these apes on a separate evolutionary trajectory from other orangutans in Sumatra (Pongo abelii) and Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), says a team led by evolutionary anthropologist Michael Krützen of the University of Zurich. Conservation efforts in Sumatra must now take into account that there is a new species which requires protection.
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.
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