A new species of orangutan has been announced in Indonesia! This is the first new Great Ape to be found in a century, making it a historic development in our understanding of humankind’s closest relatives. A peer reviewed paper published on November 2, 2017, in the journal Current Biology has revealed the discovery of the new species, Pongo tapanuliensis, whose common name will be the Tapanuli orangutan.
This discovery underscores how much we still have to learn about Indonesia’s extraordinary and disappearing biodiversity. Also, they’re heartbreakingly adorable.
The Tapanuli orangutan is found in the Batang Toru Ecosystem, in the province of North Sumatra. Recent genetic analysis reveals that the new species is actually more closely related to the Borneo orangutan than it is to its much nearer neighbor to the north, the Sumatran orangutan. It is considered to be the ‘ancestral line’ from which the other two species evolved. Tapirs, Sun Bears, Sumatran Serow, Golden Cats and the critically endangered Sumatran tigers are also found in the forests of Batang Toru.
The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme has worked tirelessly over the last 12 years on protection of the Batang Toru Ecosystem with local stakeholders, succeeding in allocating nearly a quarter million acres as protected forest in 2014.
Sadly, the tiny population of the new species – only 800 individuals are believed to exist – immediately makes the Tapanuli orangutan the most critically endangered Great Ape on earth. Worse, while protections have been achieved for nearly 85% of this red apes habitat, two potentially devastating industrial projects, a hydro dam and a gold mine expansion, are proposed in a sensitive area of connectivity inside the unprotected part of the forest.