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Are Great Apes Still Being Discovered?

For the first time in almost a century, scientists have identified an entirely new species of great ape. The new orangutan species, called Pongo tapanuliensis, consists of about 800 individuals living in the Batang Toru forest of Indonesia. Already considered endangered, the Tapanuli orangutan joins a cast of seven other great ape species -- Sumatran orangutans, Bornean orangutans, eastern gorillas, western gorillas, common chimpanzees, bonobos -- and humans, of course.

Endangered by human contact:

  • Researchers used the genomes of 37 orangutans to reconstruct the animals' evolutionary history through genetic code. Their work appeared in the journal Current Biology.
  • The Tapanuli orangutans of Batang Toru are threatened by illegal road construction, conflicts with humans over crops, and the illegal animal trade.
  • The proposed development of a hydroelectric dam in Sumatra could impact a portion of the Batang Toru population, researchers said.
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