New Species Of Orangutan Discovered!

A new species of orangutan has recently been identified. On this page you can find out all about the newest member of the great ape family!

new species of orangutan
Frontal view of Pongo tapanuliensis. Resized version of original photo by Tim Laman. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

New Species Of Orangutan

*** Update: we've now added a facts page about this species. You can see it here: Tapanuli Orangutan Facts ***

Scientists have recently announced the discovery of a new orangutan species: the Tapanuli orangutan! The species has been given the scientific name Pongo tapanuliensis.

The Tapanuli orangutan differs from the two other orangutan species in both physical appearance and behavior. Its distinctive features include: hair that is thick and curly, a long call and a unique diet.

With the recognition of the new species, there are now three species of orangutan: the Sumatran Orangutan, the Tapanuli orangutan, and the Bornean Orangutan. All three species are critically endangered.

In fact, the newly identified species may be the most endangered of all; it is thought that there are fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans living in the Sumatran rainforests.

The recognition of the Tapanuli orangutan as a species raises the total number of great ape species from seven to eight.

Where Does The New Species Of Orangutan Live?

The Tapanuli orangutan lives in on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Sumatra is the world’s sixth largest island. It is located in the Indian Ocean.

The Tapanuli orangutan is found in the rainforests of the Batang Toru Ecosystem, part of the Tapanuli region in North Sumatra.

You can see where this is on the interactive map below. You can move the map and zoom in and out to see where the Batang Toru Ecosystem is in relation to the rest of the world.

Differences Between The Tapanuli Orangutan And Other Orangutans

At first glance, the physical difference between the Tapanuli orangutan and the other orangutans is small. However, scientists have identified several differences between the Tapanuli orangutan and the other species. These include:

  • Thicker & curlier hair
  • Less robust skull and jawbone
  • (Males) Moustache and protruding beard.
  • (Males) Flatter cheek pads with thin blond hair
  • The Tapanuli orangutan’s diet includes different plants than those eaten by the other species.

New orangutan species
Adult female, Pongo tapanuliensis. Batang Toru Forest Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project North Sumatran Province. Resized version of original photo by Tim Laman. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

When Did The New Species Split From The Other Orangutans?

Using advanced genetic analysis techniques, scientists have been able to reveal much about the ancestry of the Tapanuli orangutan.

Surprisingly, it turns out that the Tapanuli orangutan is more closely related to the Bornean orangutan than it is to the Sumatran orangutan. This is despite the Tapanuli orangutan and the Sumatran orangutan looking more alike one another and living within 60 miles of one other on Sumatra.

The Sumatran orangutan species branched off from the Tapanuli orangutan around 3 million years ago. The Tapanuli orangutan and Bornean orangutan species split around 670,000 years ago.

Although the Bornean orangutan is found on the island of Borneo, both Sumatra and Borneo were once both part of a single landmass known as Sundaland. Over the years, the sea level gradually rose, separating the islands as well as their orangutan inhabitants.


It is estimated that there are fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans left, and the species is rated Critically Endangered.

The area of rainforest in which the species is found is very small (around 1,000 km2 / 400 sq. mi). The region is currently threatened by road construction, illegal forest clearance and a proposed hydroelectric development.

The orangutans themselves are in danger from hunters.

If these threats aren’t overcome then the Tapanuli orangutan will be facing extinction just a few decades after having been discovered.

Further Reading

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