New Orangutan Species Discovered in Indonesia


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  • Scientists say they have discovered a new species of orangutans on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra.
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  • The population differs in several ways from the two existing orangutan species found in Sumatra and the neighboring island of Borneo.
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  • The orangutans were found inside North Sumatra’s Batang Toru forest, the science publication Current Biology reported.
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  • Researchers named the new species the Tapanuli orangutan.
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  • They say the animals are considered a new species because of genetic, skeletal and tooth differences.
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  • Michael Kruetzen is a geneticist with the University of Zurich who has studied the orangutans for several years.
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  • He said he was excited to be part of the unusual discovery of a new great ape in the present day.
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  • He noted that most great apes are currently considered endangered or severely endangered.
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  • Gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos also belong to the great ape species.
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  • Orangutan – which means person of the forest in the Indonesian and Malay languages - is the world’s biggest tree-living mammal.
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  • The orange-haired animals can move easily among the trees because their arms are longer than their legs.
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  • They live more lonely lives than other great apes, spending a lot of time sleeping and eating fruit in the forest.
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  • The new study said fewer than 800 of the newly-described orangutans exist.
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  • Their low numbers make the group the most endangered of all the great ape species.
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  • They live within an area covering about 1,000 square kilometers.
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  • The population is considered highly vulnerable.
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  • That is because the environment which they depend on is greatly threatened by development.
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  • Researchers say if steps are not taken quickly to reduce the current and future threats, the new species could become extinct “within our lifetime.”
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  • Research into the new species began in 2013,
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  • when an orangutan protection group in Sumatra found an injured orangutan in an area far away from the other species.
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  • The adult male orangutan had been beaten by local villagers and died of his injuries.
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  • The complete skull was examined by researchers.
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  • Among the physical differences of the new species are a notably smaller head and frizzier hair.
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  • The Tapanuli orangutans also have a different diet and are found only in higher forest areas.
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  • There is no unified international system for recognizing new species.
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  • But to be considered, discovery claims at least require publication in a major scientific publication.
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  • Russell Mittermeier is head of the primate specialist group at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
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  • He called the finding a “remarkable discovery.”
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  • He said it puts responsibility on the Indonesian government to help the species survive.
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  • Matthew Nowak is one of the writers of the study.
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  • He told the Associated Press that there are three groups of the Tapanuli orangutans that are separated by non-protected land.
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  • He said forest land needs to connect the separated groups.
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  • In addition, the writers of the study are recommending that plans for a hydropower center in the area be stopped by the government.
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  • It also recommended that remaining forest in the Sumatran area where the orangutans live be protected.
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  • I’m Bryan Lynn.
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