A new species of great ape has been discovered

The orangutan. Image: Maxime Aliaga

A new species of orangutan has been found hidden from the rest of the world in remote jungle in Indonesia.

Described for the first time in the latest edition of the Current Biology journal, the tapanuli orangutan has a population of just 800 in a small patch of forest in the north of Indonesian island Sumatra.

It is the most endangered of the now seven known species of great apes.

Anton Nurcahyo, a PhD scholar with the ANU School of Archeology and Anthropology, undertook a morphology study of the only known specimen of the apes which, combined with a genomic analysis, confirmed the group as a new third species of orangutan.

His research showed the new species has smaller measurements than the other two known orangutans, the Bornean and the Sumatran orangutans.

Tapanuli orangutan. Image: Tim Laman

“It has a smaller skull, but larger canine teeth than other orangutan species,” says Nurcahyo.

Colin Groves, a renowned biological anthropologist who has discovered more than 50 species throughout his career, also contributed to the research.

“It’s a very significant discovery,” says Professor Groves, from the ANU School of Archeology and Anthropology.

“The orangutan is one of our closest living relatives and we’ve now found there is more diversity within orangutans than we knew.”

The research was conducted in collaboration with 34 institutions including the University of Zurich, the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, Bogor Agricultural Institute and Liverpool John Moores University.

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