For years, researchers were confused about the genetic peculiarity of a small population orangutan species found in Sumatra. But now they have finally confirmed that the orangutans are new species of the famous Great Apes.
The Orangutans have always fascinated the scientists with their surprising orange fur, remarkable vocal abilities and their close resemblance to humans (97% of their DNA matches with the humans). The latest discovery marks the third type of Orangutan species ever found. Earlier, two distinct sopecies of primates were found living on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. These are the surviving members of the six species of Great apes. The other four species are the eastern and western African Gorillas, the chimpanzees and the bonobos. So, according to the new research, a seventh species of the Great apes have been found in the form of another orang-utan.
The new species named as Tapanuli orangutan was found from upland forests on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra. The author of the study, Dr. Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist affiliated with Australian National University, said that he discovered the population south of Lake Toba in 1997, but took 20 years to get the genetic and morphological data together that shows how distinct the species is.
The research was carried out by a team of international researchers from the University of Zurich, Liverpool John Moores University, and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme and they warned that there are only 800 individuals of Tapanuli orang-utans remaining, making them one of the most endangered ape species. Actually, in 2013, Matthew G. Nowak, a conservation biologist with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, along with his teammates found out the skeleton of an adult male orangutan killed by the local residents at the Batang Toru ecosystem in North Sumatra. They were surprised to find singular characteristics that consistently differed from other Sumatran orangutans, including in the measurements and overall shape of its skull, jaw, and teeth. So, the scientists accelerated their research and began reconstructing the animal’s evolutionary history through their genetic code.
Prof Michael Krützen from the University of Zurich, Switzerland said that the genomic analysis really allowed them to look in detail at the history. After analyzing 37 complete orangutan genomes, the researchers found out that these Great apes separated from their Bornean relatives less than 700,000 years ago. Also, after analyzing the orangutans’ signature loud calls, the researchers got to know that there is subtle difference between their calls and calls of other populations. Also, the shape and size of the Sumatran, Bornean and Tapanuli orang-utans were found to be different. So, its great that the seventh species of Great apes have been found successfully and at the same time it is also a cause of worry that there are very less number of these orangutan species left in the Sumatran forests.