Discovery of a new great ape: Photo by Md. Towhidul Islam The Tapanuli orangutan

A new great ape species, the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) has been described by an international team of researchers, including Professor Serge Wich who serves as chair of the GRASP Scientific Commission. Endemic to the three Tapanuli districts of North Sumatra in the upland forest in the Batang Toru ecosystem, the new species is described based on morphological and extensive genomic evidence supplemented by data from behavioural observations and ecological surveys. However, this discovery could be a short-lived one as, with no more than 800 individuals, the new species is already ranked as the most endangered great ape species.

Conservationists underscore urgent action to cautiously review development proposals underway in the area – some current strong anthropogenic forces include conversion of pristine forest for mining, construction of a hydro-electric dam and general human encroachment – that would threaten the longevity of the new species.

Professor Serge Wich who has been conducting surveys and research on this new species since 2011 and who provided ecological expertise to the study commented: “It is incredibly exciting that a new orangutan species has been described and it’s a wonderful addition to Indonesia’s high biodiversity. At the same time, the low number of Tapanuli orangutans in the wild indicates that there can be no complacency in terms of its conservation. 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.”

Professor Wich also contributed to the GRASP study on sustainable forest management in Sumatra which provided recommendations on sustainable approaches to development without adversely interfering with orangutan habitats.

To learn more about these great apes, please read the news article at the Liverpool John Moores University website.