Scientists identify new great ape species in Indonesia
The world of science erupted with excitement on 2 November after a research team announced that it had discovered a new species of great ape – the Tapanuli orangutan. Great apes are a group of species that includes bonobos, chimpanzees, eastern and western gorillas, humans and Sumatran and Bornean orangutans.
The new ape, discovered by a team of scientists from Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Zurich, was found in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Scientists identified the ape as a new species by studying its facial structure, its behaviour, the sounds it makes and the texture of its hair.
The team compared the skull and jaws of a male Tapanuli orangutan to those of 33 males belonging to the other two species of orangutan and found that it is slightly smaller. They also discovered that Tapanuli males have moustaches and bushy beards, whereas the females have wispy beards. Despite living near the Sumatran orangutan, the Tapanuli orangutan is in fact more closely related to its cousins in Borneo.
However, it isn’t all good news. There are only 800 of these apes left in the wild, which means the species goes straight on the Critically Endangered list. In fact, they are now the most endangered great ape species on the planet, mainly because of humans cutting down the trees where they live. Professor Serge Wich, co-author of the study, said, “If steps are not taken quickly to reduce current and future threats to conserve every last remaining bit of forest, we may see the discovery and extinction of a great ape species within our lifetime.”
The Tapanuli orangutan has an unusual face shape.