How we discovered a new species of orangutan in northern Sumatra



File 20171103 26472 gug2mh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The new species has a smaller head, and a distinctly ‘cinnamon’ colour compared with other orangutans.
Maxime Aliaga, Author provided

Colin Groves, Australian National University and Anton Nurcahyo, Australian National University

We have discovered a new species of orangutan – the third known species and the first new great ape to be described since the bonobo almost a century ago.

The new species, called the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), has a smaller skull than the existing Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, but has larger canines.

As we and our colleagues report in the journal Current Biology, the new species is represented by an isolated population of fewer than 800 orangutans living at Batang Toru in northern Sumatra, Indonesia.

Orangutan populations in Sumatra and Borneo – the new species’ distribution is shown in yellow.
Curr. Biol.

Read more: The lengthy childhood of endangered orangutans is written in their teeth


The existence of a group of orangutans in this region was first reported back in 1939. But the Batang Toru orangutans were not rediscovered until 1997, and then confirmed in 2003. We set about carrying out further research to see whether this isolated group of orangutans was truly a unique species.

On the basis of genetic evidence, we have concluded that they are indeed distinct from both the other two known species of orangutan: Pongo abelii from further north in Sumatra, and Pongo pygmaeus from Borneo.

The Batang Toru orangutans have a curious mix of features. Mature males have cheek flanges similar to those of Bornean orangutans, but their slender build is more akin to Sumatran orangutans.

The hair colour is more cinnamon than the Bornean species, and the Batang Toru population also makes longer calls than other orangutans.

Making sure

To make completely sure, we needed more accurate comparisons of their body dimensions, or “morphology”. It was not until 2013 that the skeleton of an adult male became available, but since then one of us (Anton) has amassed some 500 skulls of the other two species, collected from 21 institutions, to allow for accurate comparisons.

Analyses have to be conducted at a similar developmental stage on male orangutan skulls, because they continue growing even when adult. Anton found 33 skulls of wild males that were suitable for comparison. Of 39 different measurement characteristics for the Batang Toru skull, 24 of them fall outside of the typical ranges of northern Sumatran and Bornean orangutans.

The new orangutans have smaller heads – but some impressive teeth.
Matthew G Nowak, Author provided

Overall the Batang Toru male has a smaller skull, but bigger canines. Combining the genetic, vocal, and morphological sources of evidence, we have confidently concluded that Batang Toru orangutan population is a newly discovered species – and one whose future is already under threat.

Under threat as soon as they’re discovered.
Maxime Aliaga, Author provided

Despite the heavy exploitation of the surrounding areas (hunting, habitat
alteration and other illegal activities), the communities surrounding the habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan still give us the opportunity to see and census the surviving population. Unfortunately, we believe that the population is fewer than 800 individuals.

Of the habitat itself, no more than 10 square km remains. Future development has been planned for that area, and about 15% of the orangutans’ habitat has non-protected forest status.


Read more: Orangutans need more than your well-meaning clicktivism


The discovery of the third orangutan in the 21st century gives us an understanding that the great apes have more diversity than we know, making it all the more important to conserve these various groups.

The ConversationWithout the strong support of, and participation from, the communities surrounding its habitat, the future of the Tapanuli orangutan will be uncertain. Government, researchers and conservation institutions must make a strong collaborative effort to make sure that this third orangutan will survive long after its discovery.

Colin Groves, Professor of Bioanthropology, Australian National University and Anton Nurcahyo, , Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Good news for the only place on Earth where tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants live together


Bill Laurance, James Cook University

Conservationists and environmental scientists are used to bad news. So when there’s some really good news, it’s important to hear that as well.

While the battle is far from over, there has been a series of breakthroughs in the long-running battle to protect the imperilled Leuser ecosystem in northern Sumatra, Indonesia – the last place on Earth where tigers, orangutans, rhinoceros and elephants still live alongside one another.

The government of Aceh Province – which controls most of the Leuser ecosystem and has been subjected to withering criticism for its schemes to destroy much of the region’s forests for oil palm, rice and mining expansion while opening it up with a vast road network through the forest – has agreed to a moratorium on new land clearing and mining.

The Leuser ecosystem.
Global Forest Watch, Author provided

This is huge news, and it’s clear that both the international community and Indonesia’s federal government have played big roles in making this happen. Indonesian President Joko Widodo deserves a great deal of credit for this accomplishment, which he has been pushing for many months, not just in Aceh but elsewhere in Indonesia too.

It is the culmination of an almost three-year battle by the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers (a scientific group I founded and lead) as well as many other dedicated researchers and conservationists.

Sumatran orangutans have lost huge areas of forest habitat.
Richard Whitcombe

Set in stone?

Moratoria can always be cancelled or weakened, but the chances of that happening seem increasingly remote. In a speech at last month’s signing of the Paris climate agreement in New York, Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya, underscored her commitment to the Leuser moratorium.

It seems unlikely that she would make this statement at such a high-profile event if there were any significant possibility that the moratorium will collapse.

Sumatran elephants.
Gudkov Andrey

And the news gets even better. Last week, Aceh’s deputy governor, Muzakir Manaf, declared that he will provide full support for ground-level measures needed to enforce the moratorium.

That is critical, for two reasons. First, it shows that the Aceh government is strongly behind the moratorium. Second, a moratorium is just a piece of paper unless there is real on-the-ground enforcement to ensure that illegal land-clearing, poaching, mining and other activities don’t continue unabated.

Limiting palm oil

A final piece of good news is that Nurbaya has confirmed her intention to halt completely the granting of new permits for oil palm plantations in state-owned forests right across the country.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that oil palm plantations won’t keep expanding in Indonesia. There are thousands of existing permits encompassing many millions of hectares of native forest. Indeed, Indonesia has previously announced plans to clear a further 14 million hectares of native forest by 2020, mostly for oil palm and wood-pulp production.

But at least it means that the avalanche of new oil palm permits is coming to an end, for which both Widodo and Nurbaya deserve credit.

Rainforests being felled for oil palm in central Sumatra.
William Laurance

Not over yet

The fight to conserve Indonesia’s mega-diverse forests is far from over. The nation’s plans for massive road, dam and mining projects – many in forested areas where they can open a Pandora’s box of problems such as illegal poaching, logging and forest burning – is enough to frighten even the most sober of observers.

Fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos survive in the wild, making it one of the world’s rarest species.
Lynsey Allen

But for today, at least, we can celebrate a very significant victory for conservation, and give credit to the many people who have worked to raise the profile of Leuser, including the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who visited recently.

Few have had more impact than Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program. In a recent interview, Singleton laid out a remarkably compelling and detailed argument for saving Leuser, and for the surprisingly limited economic benefits its exploitation would generate for the local Sumatran citizens.

The economic and environmental think-tank Greenomics Indonesia also deserves a big round of applause for its efforts to facilitate this groundbreaking achievement.

But while we’re congratulating ourselves and others, we shouldn’t forget to keep a close eye on Leuser to ensure the promised moratorium really does take effect, and that one of the most important wild places in the world still survives.

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared here.

The Conversation

Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Indonesia: Bala Shark Found in Rainforest


The link below is to an article reporting on the discovery of the Bala Shark in a rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia.

For more visit:
http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0528-hadinaryanto-harapan-fish.html

Indonesia: 100 Plus Orangutans Estimated Dead


The link below is to an article on Orangutans in Sumatra and the threat posed to them by deforestation, and a fire that has burnt unchecked there as a result of logging.

For more visit:
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hPdy1GSpmZzTWIRiAs4h45tvqteQ