In DepthConservation Biology

New ape found, sparking fears for its survival

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Science  03 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6363, pp. 572-573
DOI: 10.1126/science.358.6363.572

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Researchers have identified a new species of orangutan in an isolated forest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Fewer than 800 individuals remain, and the construction of a dam and road threaten the prime habitat of the ape. A combination of anatomical, ecological, and genetic data convinced researchers that Pongo tapanuliensis, named for the Tapanuli districts where it is found, is distinct from the two accepted species of orangutan. The authors also conclude this week in Current Biology that by 3.4 million years ago, orangutans in northern Sumatra had split from those in southern Sumatra and Borneo. Then, about 674,000 years ago, the southern Sumatra and Borneo populations also diverged. Conservationists hope the find—the first species of great ape new to science to be described since the bonobo in 1929—will help raise awareness of the plight of orangutans. Most of the forest where P. tapanuliensis lives is off-limits to logging, but the best habitat is not protected. Conservation groups are working with local communities to reduce illegal tree-cutting and hunting.