The ‘Tapanuli Orangutan’ has just been designated as a new species, with the scientific name ‘Pongo tapanuliensis’. It is the newest great ape species in the world, and only lives in the the rugged terrain of the Batang Toru Ecosystem in the three Tapanuli districts of North Sumatra.
The Tapanuli Orangutan was previously believed to be the southernmost populaton of the Sumatran orangutan, Pongo abelii. However, based on multi-disciplinary research efforts over several years by a team of Indonesian and international scientists looking at genetics, morphology, ecology and behaviour, it became clear that the Tapanuli orangutan was in fact closer to the Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus, than the Sumatran, so it should be considered a separate species. In fact, the research also indicates that it is ancestral to the other species.
Quick facts about Pongo tapanuliensis and their habitat:
Why is the Tapanuli orangutan a new species?
Genetic differences are the first reason for the differentiation of the Tapanuli orangutan species. Research indicates that there was a genetic separation from the Sumatran orangutan about 3.38 million years ago, whereas the Tapanuli orangutans split from the Bornean orangutans approximately 670 thousand years ago.
There are also a number of morphological differences seen in the Tapanuli orangutans:
Living in this high altitude habitat (900-1100 m asl), the Orangutan Tapanuli consume a variety of different food species never seen before in the diet of this great ape. In addition, tool use, so far only found in high-density orangutan populations in lowland swamp forest, has also been found to occur in Batang Toru.