A new species of great apes has been discovered in Sumatra, Indonesia. Researchers from the University of Zurich, Liverpool John Moores University and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme analysed the DNA of a small group of orangutans, which revealed a genetic “peculiarity”, BBC reports.
The apes, named the Tapanuli orangutan, are the first new great ape species to be discovered in a century. The study shows that the Tapanuli is one of the most endangered ape species in the world, with only 800 left. “It’s very worrying,” says key researcher Professor Serge Wich, “to discover something new and then immediately also realise that we have to focus all of our efforts before we lose it.”
Professor Michael Krützen says the study enabled the researchers to uncover the Tapanuli’s evolutionary history. “The genomic analysis really allows us to look in detail at the history. We can probe deep back in time and ask, ‘when did these populations split off?’.”
The study also showed that the Tapanuli make their presence known with a unique call. “Those calls can carry a kilometre through the forest,” Wich explains. “If you look at these calls, you can tease them apart, and we found some subtle differences between these and other populations.”
Wich highlights the importance of the discovery, which will allow conservationists to begin protecting the species. “There are only seven great ape species – not including us,” he says. “So adding one to that very small list is spectacular. It’s something I think many biologists dream of.”