Rare New Ape Species Discovered in Sumatra

 Orangutans made headline news across the globe this month, as a study emerged in the journal ‘Current Biology’ announcing findings of a completely new species of orangutan.

How close did we come to losing a completely new species, without even realising it existed?

The orangutans, located in the Batang Toru area of Sumatra were originally believed to be a smaller population of the Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii) and it was only when an adult male was sadly killed in a conflict with local villagers that scientists were able to examine the physiological differences between the species.

Adult Tapanuli Orangutan

The new species, named the Tapanuli Orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), was found to be significantly different to both Bornean (P. pygmaeus) and Sumatran orangutans in their skull structure, hair type and call frequency. The team of international researchers conducting the study also assessed the full genetic make-up of the Tapanuli orangutan and found this to be distinctly different to the two other species.

Despite this incredible discovery, with only 800 individuals predicted to exist, this new species is likely to be the world’s rarest great ape. Human activity and encroachment affects all species of orangutan and this finding highlights the importance of conservation for the future of our planet’s wildlife.

Baby Tapanuli Orangutan

How close did we come to losing a completely new species, without even realising it existed? With both Sumatran and Bornean orangutans classified as Critically Endangered, and the Tapanuli orangutan predicted to be categorised the same way, it is more crucial than ever that we consider conservation a priority. Only if we work together to make a difference to these beautiful apes can we hope to preserve them for the generations to come.