A team of scientists have discovered that the Tapanuli orangutan population living in the Batang Toru forests in North Sumatra is genetically distinct from both Sumatran and Bornean orangutans – and is therefore a separate species.
The new species of orangutan was announced in a paper published on November 2nd in the scientific journal Current Biology. According to the findings, the Tapanuli orangutan is in fact more closely related to the Bornean orangutan than it is to the Sumatran orangutans living further north in the Leuser Ecosystem.
With less than 800 individuals in just 1,100 square kilometers of forest, urgent conservation efforts are underway by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) to protect the Tapanuli orangutan – the most endangered great ape species in the world. Gold mining, a proposed hydroelectric power plant, deforestation, and illegal logging all threaten the Batang Toru forests.
Photographer Andrew Walmsley has just returned from Batang Toru, where he went in search of the elusive Tapanuli orangutan.