New orangutan species announced

The Tapanuli orangutan is the third species to be discovered, though it is critically endangered
tapanuli orangutan The Tapanuli orangutan is the third and newest species of orangutan to be discovered. (Wikimedia Commons/Tim Laman)


Last Thursday, November 2, brought us some ape-mazing news. There is a brand new species of orangutan in the world. Say hello to the Tapanuli!

There are now three known orangutan species — the others are the Sumatran and the Bornean. The Tapanuli orangutan is named after the South Tapanuli Regency, which is its home region. This area is found on the island of Sumatra, which is a part of Indonesia.

A rare discovery of a rare animal

tapanuli orangutan

Adult males of the world's three orangutan species (left to right): Bornean, Sumatran, and Tapanuli. Can you spot the differences? (Wikimedia Commons)

Discovering a new species of ape isn't an everyday thing. In fact, this is the first new ape species to be found since the bonobo in 1929.

Part of the reason for this delay? It takes some time to confirm a new species. So 2017 isn't the first time anyone has seen a Tapanuli orangutan. This is just the moment when researchers can say for sure that the Tapanuli is its own species.

Sadly, there is another reason why this discovery took this long. There simply aren't a lot of these apes left.

Critically endangered

Embed from Getty Images

Tapanulis live in northern Sumatra, an island in Indonesia. (Getty Embed)

There are less than 800 Tapanuli orangutans in the wild. Their habitat is a single area of Sumatra that is around 1000 sq. km or 425 sq. miles. In other words, their entire wild population lives in a part of the jungle around the size of Los Angeles. L.A. may be a big city, but that's still kind of small when you're talking about an animal's only home on Earth.

Researchers are hoping to turn the excitement around this discovery into a chance to help both Tapanulis and all orangutans. The Indianapolis Zoo’s Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center is one of the groups involved in this effort.

“This remarkable discovery is historic,” said the Indianapolis Zoo's Dr. Rob Shumaker in a press release. “The international team of scientists have redefined our understanding of great apes. It also reinforces the urgency for conservation efforts across the range of wild orangutans.”

Though the newest great ape is also the most rare, here's hoping that attention like this will help give it a stable future.


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