Orangutans are some of the planet’s most intelligent animals. In fact, orangutans and human beings share 97% of their DNA sequence. Orangutans can only be found in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the island of Borneo, which is a land mass shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
The two distinct species of these primates – Sumatran orangutans and Bornean orangutans – are surviving members of the family of six species of great apes, which also includes Eastern and Western African gorillas as well as chimpanzees and bonobos, which also live in Africa. But new research approximately two decades in the making is upsetting conventional scientific wisdom.
According to a paper recently published in the journal Current Biology, an international team of scientists suggests that there is a seventh great ape species: the Tapanuli orangutan, which can be found in upland Sumatran forests. Dr. Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist and one of the paper’s authors, says he “discovered the population south of Lake Toba in 1997” but it’s taken researchers “20 years to get the genetic and morphological data together that shows how distinct the species is.”
Orangutans are an endangered species. Populations in some areas are critically endangered. Tapanuli orangutans, the recently-discovered species, live in an area of forest approximately 425 square miles in size. The research team contends that this is the most endangered of all surviving great ape species, with only about 800 members left.
To learn ways in which you can help support this and other species, visit the World Wildlife Fund here.
Photo courtesy of Liverpool John Moores University/Maxime Aliaga.