New species of orangutan is the rarest great ape on the planet

Orangutans could be the oddest of our nice ape kinfolk. The cinnamon-colored animals — the one nice apes native to Asia — reside nowhere else however Indonesia. Graceful when swinging by way of the rain forest cover although awkward on the bottom, orangutans are solitary and rarely seen. Orangutans give beginning solely each six to 9 years, one of many slowest mammalian reproductive charges.

In the early 2000s, biologists acknowledged that orangutans have been two species, Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. An evaluation of ape DNA in 2011 indicated these orangutan species cut up aside about 400,000 years in the past. Now a staff of evolutionary biologists and anthropologists, publishing their work Thursday within the journal Current Biology, says there’s a third orangutan offshoot: Pongo tapanuliensis, or the Tapanuli orangutan.

The nice ape household, then, has grown to eight species: bonobos, chimpanzees, japanese and western gorillas, people and the three sorts of orangutans. The Tapanuli orangutan is the rarest of all of them.

“The number of great apes worldwide have plummeted mbadively,” stated Michael Krützen, an evolutionary geneticist on the University of Zurich in Switzerland and an creator of the report. “I really hope that our paper will put these orangutans more on the radar.”

This remoted group of orangutans started to evolve right into a separate species as soon as their genetic change with different Indonesian apes slowed to a trickle 100,000 years again, the authors say. Tapanuli orangutans have refined variations of their facial options in addition to smaller skulls than different orangutans. This species has a “prominent mustache,” the authors wrote, and the feminine Tapanuli orangutans have beards, in contrast to Bornean orangutans. The males emit longer roars, too, than different orangutans.

There are 54,000 Bornean orangutans and fewer than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans. These two species are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The Tapanuli inhabitants consists of fewer than 800 people, in response to the brand new report. They are discovered solely in forests patches on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, at excessive altitudes south of the swamp forests the place the Sumatran orangutans reside.

A Pongo tapanuliensis cranium. (Nater et al.)

Sumatran orangutans are hunted by jungle cats, however in any other case the apes have few pure predators. Humans pose the most important risk. Agriculture, significantly palm oil plantations, encroaches on orangutan habitat.

As early because the 1930s, information from Dutch vacationers hinted that an remoted orangutan group lived within the Sumatran highlands. A conservationist on the Australian National University and an creator of the brand new work, Erik Meijaard, first encountered these orangutans many years in the past, Krützen stated. Yet till lately, there was not sufficient proof to pin down their id as a separate species.

In 2013, villagers killed an orangutan close to Tapanuli forest. Its physique offered the one skeleton studied within the new report. Analysis of the orangutan bones, plus an in depth genetic evaluation of blood samples, satisfied the authors that the Tapanuli orangutan was distinct from different apes.

DNA revealed that these orangutans are descended from their cousins who reside throughout a couple of hundred miles of sea, in Borneo. They ceased interbreeding and not share any gene move. “They’ve been evolving totally independently for at least 15,000 years,” Krützen stated.

They are distributed over about 1,000 sq. kilometers, an space in regards to the measurement of Dallas. This orangutan species is just too new to science to have an official conservation standing, however “they will probably be named critically endangered really soon,” Krützen stated.

Read extra:

Dear Science: Why aren’t apes evolving into people?

Orangutan women desire cheeky mates

Orangutan granted rights of personhood in Argentina


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