Researchers have identified a new species of orangutan in an isolated forest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the BBC reports. The Tapanuli orangutan is the first new ape species to be discovered in almost 100 years, but the smiles were slightly premature, as the new species might not be around for much longer.
The discovery was made by an international team of scientists from Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Zurich, who were able to classify the new species of great ape after comparing its genomes and bone structure to those of other types of orangutans.
“We were completely surprised to find that the skull is quite different in some characteristics from orangutan skulls we had seen before,” said Anton Nurcahyo, a PhD student from the Australian National University.
“For quite some time, we had been working on genomic data to investigate the genetic structure and evolutionary history of all existing orangutan populations,” says Drs Alexander Nater and Maja Mattle-Greminger from the University of Zurich. “One consistent result was that we identified three very old evolutionary lineages among all orangutans, despite only having two species currently described.”
Sadly, the new Tapanuli’s numbers appear to be dwindling, with fewer than 800 of the creatures left in the wild. The recently discovered ape is the most endangered great ape on the planet, according to a paper published in Current Biology.
‘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,” said Professor Serge Wich from the LJMU School of Natural Sciences and Psychology.