Tapanuli orangutan

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Tapanuli orangutan
Pongo tapanuliensis.jpg
Adult male
Pongo tapanuliensis female.jpg
Adult female
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Pongo
Species: P. tapanuliensis
Binomial name
Pongo tapanuliensis
Nurcahyo, Meijaard, Nowak, Fredriksson & Groves, 2017[note 1]
Tapanuli orangutan is located in Sumatra
Tapanuli orangutan
Approximate location in Sumatra

The Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) is a species of orangutan, native to South Tapanuli in the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.[2] It is one of three known species of orangutan, alongside Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii), found farther northwest in the island, and Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). It was described as a distinct species in 2017.[3]

Discovery and naming[edit]

An isolated population of orangutans in the Batang Toru area of South Tapanuli was reported in 1939.[4] The population was rediscovered by an expedition to the area in 1997,[5] but it was not recognized as a distinct species then.[6] Pongo tapanuliensis was identified as a distinct species, following a detailed phylogenetic study in 2017. The study analyzed the genetic samples of 37 wild orangutans from populations across Sumatra and Borneo and conducted a morphological analysis of the skeletons of 34 adult males.[2] The holotype of the species is the complete skeleton of an adult male from Batang Toru that died after being wounded by locals in November 2013.[2][7] The skull and postcranium of the specimen are stored in the Zoological Museum of Bogor.[2] The skull and teeth of the Batang Toru male differ significantly from those of the other two orangutan species.[2][8] Comparisons of the genomes of all 37 orangutans using principal component analysis and population genetic models also indicated that the Batang Toru population is a separate species.[2]

The specific name, tapanuliensis, as well as the common name, Tapanuli orangutan, refer to Tapanuli, the hilly region in North Sumatra where the species lives.[2][9]


Genetic comparisons show that Tapanuli orangutans diverged from Sumatran orangutans about 3.4 million years ago, but became more isolated after the Lake Toba eruption that occurred about 75,000 years ago.[2][3][7] They had continued sporadic contact that stopped at least 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Tapanuli orangutans diverged from Bornean orangutans much later, about 674,000 years ago.[8] Orangutans travelled from Sumatra to Borneo as the islands were connected by land bridges as parts of Sundaland during recent glacial periods when sea levels were much lower.[7] The present range of Tapanuli orangutans is thought to be close to the area where ancestral orangutans first entered what is now Indonesia from mainland Asia.[2]


Males of each orangutan species (from left to right): Bornean, Sumatran, Tapanuli

Tapanuli orangutans resemble Sumatran orangutans more than Bornean orangutans in body build and fur color.[2] However, they have frizzier hair, smaller heads, and flatter faces.[3] Dominant male Tapanuli orangutans have prominent moustaches and flat cheek pads covered in downy hair. Both male and female Tapanuli orangutans have beards, while only male Bornean orangutans have beards.[2]


The loud, long-distance call or 'long call' of male Tapanuli orangutans has a higher maximum frequency than that of Sumatran orangutans, and lasts much longer and has more pulses than that of Bornean orangutans.[2][7] Their diet is also unique, containing unusual items like caterpillars and conifer cones.[8]

Habitat and distribution[edit]

Tapanuli orangutans live in tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests located south of Lake Toba in Sumatra. The entirety of the species is found in an area of about 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi) at elevations from 300 to 1,300 m (980 to 4,300 ft).[2] Tapanuli orangutans are separated from the island's other species of orangutan, the Sumatran orangutan, by just 100 km (62 mi).[9]

Conservation status[edit]

With fewer than 800 individuals restricted to an area of about 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi), the Tapanuli orangutan is the rarest great ape.[2] It is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[1] Threats to the species include deforestation, hunting, conflict with humans, the illegal wildlife trade, and a proposed hydroelectric dam in the area with the highest density of orangutans, which could impact up to 8% of their already dwindling habitat and degrade important wildlife corridors.[2][3][8][9] Inbreeding depression is likely due to the small population size and fragmented range. This is supported by the genomes of the two Tapanuli orangutan individuals, which show signs of inbreeding.[2]


  1. ^ The study describing the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) was a collaboration between 37 scientists from institutions around the world, but only the scientists mentioned here carried out the classification.


  1. ^ a b Nowak, M.G.; Rianti, P.; Wich, S.A.; Meijaard, E.; Fredriksson, G. (2017). "Pongo tapanuliensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 2017: e.T120588639A120588662. Retrieved 10 December 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Nater, Alexander; Mattle-Greminger, Maja P.; Nurcahyo, Anton; Nowak, Matthew G.; de Manuel, Marc; Desai, Tariq; Groves, Colin; Pybus, Marc; Sonay, Tugce Bilgin; Roos, Christian; Lameira, Adriano R.; Wich, Serge A.; Askew, James; Davila-Ross, Marina; Fredriksson, Gabriella; de Valles, Guillem; Casals, Ferran; Prado-Martinez, Javier; Goossens, Benoit; Verschoor, Ernst J.; Warren, Kristin S.; Singleton, Ian; Marques, David A.; Pamungkas, Joko; Perwitasari-Farajallah, Dyah; Rianti, Puji; Tuuga, Augustine; Gut, Ivo G.; Gut, Marta; Orozco-terWengel, Pablo; van Schaik, Carel P.; Bertranpetit, Jaume; Anisimova, Maria; Scally, Aylwyn; Marques-Bonet, Tomas; Meijaard, Erik; Krützen, Michael (2017-11-02). "Morphometric, Behavioral, and Genomic Evidence for a New Orangutan Species". Current Biology. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.047. 
  3. ^ a b c d Reese, April (2017-11-02). "Newly discovered orangutan species is also the most endangered". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2017.22934. Retrieved 2017-11-10. 
  4. ^ Natuur in Zuid- en Oost- Borneo. Fauna, flora en natuurbescherming in de Zuider- en Ooster-Afdeeling van Borneo. In 3 Jaren Indisch Natuur Leven: Opstellen over Landschappen, Dieren en Planten, Tevens Elfde Verslag (1936-1938) [Nature in South and East Borneo. Fauna, flora and nature conservation in the southern and eastern part of Borneo. In 3 Years Dutch Indies Nature Life: Compilation on Landscapes, Animals and Plants, Eleven Reports (1936-1938)] (in Dutch). Batavia, Indonesia: Nederlandsch-Indische Vereeniging tot Natuurbescherming. 1939. pp. 334–411. 
  5. ^ Meijaard, Erik (2015-12-25). "A Sumatran Wonderland". Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 2017-11-15. 
  6. ^ Gill, Victoria (2017-11-02). "New great ape species identified". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-11-03. 
  7. ^ a b c d Goldman, Jason G. (2017-11-02). "New Species of Orangutan Is Rarest Great Ape on Earth". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2017-11-06. 
  8. ^ a b c d Stokstad, Erik (2017-11-02). "New great ape species found, sparking fears for its survival". Science. Retrieved 2017-11-15. 
  9. ^ a b c Davis, Nicola (2017-11-02). "New species of orangutan discovered in Sumatra – and is already endangered". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-11-15. 

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