Scientists announce discovery of third orangutan species

This map shows the distribution of the Tapanuli orangutan and other orangutan species. Image credit University of Zurich

"We identified three very old evolutionary lineages among all orangutans, despite only having two species now described", says Maja Mattle-Greminger, a postdoctoral researcher at University of Zurich. They are the orangutans, who have constantly captivated with their stuns of orange hide, surprising vocal capacities and the 97 percent of the DNA they share in the same manner as people. Tapanuli orangutans live on the brink of extinction due to road construction, illegal forest clearing and killings by villagers and hunters, the scientists say.

Its skull and bone structure are slightly different from its relatives and so is its behaviour, with the long calls of male orangutans lasting on average 21 seconds longer with a greater number of pulses.

Earlier studies suggested that the group differed from other orangutans behaviorally and at the genetic level, but it wasn't clear that those differences were enough to support its designation as a new species.

The apes occupy a portion of North Sumatra, an Indonesian Island, known as Batang Toru.

A new species of orangutan has been found hidden from the rest of the world in remote jungle in Indonesia.

Scientists weren't sure the unique orangutan population existed until 1997.

"If steps are not taken quickly to reduce current and future threats and to conserve every last remaining bit of forest, a great ape species may become extinct within a few decades", Nowak added.

CARBONDALE, Ill. - A doctoral student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is among a team of researchers who recently discovered a new species of great ape living in Indonesia.

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"It isn't an everyday event that we find a new species of great ape, so indeed the discovery is very exciting", said Michael Krutzen of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, senior author of the study.

Following the discovery of the skeletal material, believed to have come from a Tapanuli orangutan killed in a human-animal conflict in 2013, an global team of researchers set out to understand more about the distant ape relative of humans.

Now, analysis of 37 orangutan genomes conducted by scientists from the University of Zurich (UZH) - the largest gene study of wild orangutans to date - provided the evidence needed to describe the orangutans as a new species.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale anthropology doctoral student Matthew Nowak is among the worldwide team of researchers who recently made the discovery.

"One consistent result was that we identified three very old evolutionary lineages among all orangutans, despite only having two species now described".

The analysis revealed that the new species split away from the others around 3.3 million years ago. It was less than 700,000 years ago that the Bornean and Sumatran species became distinct from each other.

The first indications of the uniqueness of the new species came from the skeletal material (pictured) of an adult male orangutan killed in 2013.

"It's a very significant discovery", he says. In 2005, the SOCP and other non-governmental organizations intensified research and conservation efforts on the orangutans in the Batang Toru Ecosystem, establishing a research station in 2006.

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