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First identified in 2017, the critically endangered rare primate is in even greater danger of extinction than is previously known. There has been a slew of controversy surrounding the Tapanuli orangutan, but research suggests that their habitat might be doing the ape more harm.

Tapanuli Orangutan
(Photo : Pryaguyo Utomo/ Wikimedia Commons)
The Tapanuli Orangutan is an endangered species amid a growing number of forest areas in the Tapanuli region, North Sumatra. At present the Tapanuli Orangutan inhabits three habitats. Starting from the Batangtoru forest or West Block. Then the Eastern Block or the Nature Reserve, area of ​​Dolok Sipirok to Dolok Sarulla (included in the North Tapanuli region). Then in the South Block, Dolok Sibual-buali and the Lubuk Raya Nature Reserve. These three orangutan habitats are separated by a trans-Sumatra highway. The Dolok Sipirok, Dolok Sarulla and Batangtoru forests are separated by the Sumatra crossing road (Sipirok-Medan). Sitandiang forest corridor with Sibual-Buali is separated by the Sipirok-Marancar road.

Tapanuli Orangutan: Rare Endangered Ape

The Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) was only described as a distinct species in late 2017, thanks to DNA analysis. Evidence suggests that it is the most ancient out of the three known orangutan species.

With only an estimated 800 individuals residing in their natural habitat, the species is under constant threat of extinction due to diminishing forests, agriculture, and hunting.

According to the New England Primate Conservancy, orangutans first inhabited mainland Asia and moved to the Sundaland-- clustering islands including Borneo and Sumatra. The split with the original population occurred roughly 3.4 million years ago and 600,000 years ago.

The Tapanuli orangutan was first observed in 1939 and again in 1997. But it wasn't until 2017 when scientists discovered the difference between the three orangutan species.

Check out: 503 New Species Identified by Scientists in 2020


Why are Tapanuli Orangutans Endangered?

Other than the destruction and modification of their natural habitat, a hydroelectric plant and dam have reported threatening the species to extinction. 

In an article published by National Geographic, the great ape will not survive the $1.6 billion hydroelectric dam and power plant that is already underway.

The hydroelectric power plant site, Sumatra's Batang Toru Forest, is home to the endangered Tapanuli orangutans and is also one of the most biodiverse areas in Indonesia. Currently, rare species such as the Sumatran tigers and critically endangered Sunda pangolins reside in the forest.

Tapanuli Orangutas Habitat May Hasten its Extinction

A study published in Plos One shows research that the Tapanuli orangutan's current mountainous terrain habitat is not ideal for creatures who live in disconnected groups.

According to Prof Erik Meijaard of Durrel Institue of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, scientists claimed that the Tapanuli orangutan species adapted to living in high elevation.

The study indicated that Tapanuli primarily inhabited lowland forest areas. However, the great apes were forced to seek out higher ground due to a combination of factors.

The Tapanuli orangutan currently occupies 1,000 square kilometers of upland forest in Indonesia.

As the single most threatened great ape species globally, conservation efforts for the Tapanuli orangutan would require research into the combined effects of habitat degradation and fragmentation and unsustainable take-off rates. 

Saving the species would require the absence of killing and the possibility of removing other species in the vicinity. 

Without concerted actions and efforts, the remaining populace of Tapanuli Orangutans is doomed to be wiped out within several orangutan generations.

Also Read: The Indonesian 'Jurassic Park" Project: Inciting Fear and Concerns from Locals


Check out more news and information on Endangered Animals on Science Times.