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Orangutan News: New Great Ape Species “Tapanuli Orangutan” Identified

Pongo tapanuliensis photo courtesy of Andrew Walmsley

A team of Indonesian and international scientists have described a new species of orangutan, in a paper published on November 2nd in the scientific journal Current Biology. The researchers demonstrate that the Tapanuli orangutan, Pongo tapanuliensis, is genetically and morphologically distinct from both Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii), and is therefore a separate species.

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 and around the Leuser Ecosystem, in Aceh and North Sumatra Provinces. The three orangutan species —Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli—began to diverge from their common ancestor about 3.4 million years ago.

“It is fascinating that this population of orangutans differs so much from the orangutans in the north of Sumatra, and that even in the 21st century a new species of great ape has been discovered” stated Dr. Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), who have worked on improving protection of the Tapanuli orangutans and their habitat since 2005.

Tapanuli orangutans are now only found in the Batang Toru Ecosystem in the North, Central and Southern districts of Tapanuli, in the province of North Sumatra, south of Lake Toba. This small remnant population of Tapanuli orangutans survives in only about 1,100 square kilometers of remaining habitat. Mining concessions, a proposed hydrodam, encroachment, and illegal logging all continue to threaten the Tapanuli orangutans’ habitat, and hence the existence of the new species.

With less than 800 individuals left, and the population already divided over three forest blocks separated by roads and agricultural land, urgent conservation efforts are needed now to ensure the survival of the Tapanuli Orangutan. “Despite only just now being described, with so few individuals left, the Tapanuli orangutan is already the most endangered great ape species in the world” stated Matthew Nowak, co-author of a recently published ‘Population Habitat Viability Analysis for Orangutans’. “Orangutans reproduce extremely slowly, and if more than 1% of the population is lost annually this will spiral them to extinction”, added Prof. Dr. Serge Wich, of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group’s Section on Great Apes.

“We have worked with the local governments in Tapanuli since 2005 to socialize the various environmental services that the Batang Toru Ecosystem provides for local communities living near the forest, and their livelihoods, and in 2014 the Government finally granted protection status to most of the forest”, stated Burhanuddin, who focuses on community awareness and local stakeholder relations for the SOCP.

‘We now need to focus on reconnecting the three remaining key populations of the Tapanuli orangutan through corridor development. The most critical habitat area for the species, with the highest densities of orangutans, is not currently protected in any way, and in fact is actually scheduled for development of a large new hydrodam’, emphasised Kusnadi, newly elected Chairman of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Forum (FOKUS).

‘For sure there a lot of work to be done to make sure the Tapanuli orangutan does not go extinct in the same century in which it is first described, but I am confident that with close collaboration with the Indonesian Government, and especially with local stakeholders, we can make this joyful news a conservation success story’, added Dr. Gabriella Fredriksson, who has coordinated the SOCP’s conservation efforts in Tapanuli since 2006.

posted by: Tom


Environmental News: Palm Oil Problem Continues To Plague Big Candy-Makers

photo from the Orangutan Conservancy archives.

by Katherine Martinko for

Tomorrow is Halloween, which means that millions of people across North America are stocking up on candy and chocolate bars to hand out to excited trick-or-treaters. These treats may be delicious to eat, but they come at an environmental cost — the destruction of tropical rainforests for palm oil production, a key ingredient in confectionery and most processed foods. In fact, as Rainforest Action Network (RAN) points out, palm oil is so ubiquitous that you can likely find it in every room of your house.

Companies like Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle are aware of the ecological impact of their sweets, and have made various pledges over the years to stop using ‘conflict palm oil’. It is called this because of the way in which plantation expansion destroys the habitats of rare species — Sumatran tigers, orangutans, clouded leopards, rhinos, sun bears, and elephants.

This excerpt from a news article appeared in and is courtesy of and can be read in its entirety here.

posted by: Tom


Environmental News: Activists Urge State Court in Aceh to Execute Supreme Court Verdict Against Palm Oil Company

Illegal clearing of peat swamps destroys the integrity of the Leuser Ecosystem Photo : Paul Hilton

The Aceh Citizen Lawsuit Movement (GeRAM) demonstrated in front of the Meulaboh State Court, West Aceh District this week. GeRAM and their supporters urged the Meulaboh State Court to immediately carry out the execution of the Supreme Court verdict against PT Kallista Alam (PT KA).

In 2014, PT KA was declared guilty of a Ongoing Environmental criminal act in the Tripa Peat Swamp, Nagan Raya District. Tripa is part of the world renowned Leuser Ecosystem and prior to the destruction was known as the “Orangutan Capital of the World” for its density of orangutan populations. In the precedent-setting verdict, PT Kallista Alam was ordered to pay 18 million dollars to restore 1000 hectares of burnt land.

Fahmi Muhammad, GeRAM spokesperson, explained that their demonstration seeks to push the Meulaboh State Court to ensure PT KA immediately pay their due fines, serve their sentences and restore the shocking destruction they were responsible for in the Tripa Swamp five years ago. “ We have waited over two years but fines to the state treasury amounting to 16.5 million USD Rp have not yet been paid. This represents a huge loss to the state”, Fahmi explained.

On 18 April 2017, the Supreme Court rejected PT KA’s judicial review so the Meulaboh State Court has no legal basis to delay carrying out the verdict against PT KA. Yet on 20 July 2017 the head of the Meulaboh State Court inexplicably granted legal protection to PT KA.

GeRAM urges Meulaboh State Court to execute verdict

The Tripa Peat Swamp is one of the three largest in Aceh, with peat depth reaching to 12 meters thus it plays a critical function in carbon storage. The millions of tons of carbon released into our atmosphere by burning peat forests is an annual problem in Indonesia; immensely costly not only to Indonesia’s economy but to the health and safety of its citizens, those of neighbouring countries like Singapore, and in fact contributes to global climate change.

“The destruction of Tripa was an environmental tragedy that must never be allowed to happen again. If PT KA is able to get away with avoiding justice, this sets a terrible precedent for environmental law all around Indonesia. More companies will dare to illegally destroy the environment for the sake of their profits if they see that Indonesian law can be played with like this”, Fahmi concluded.

posted by: Tom


Orangutan-Friendly Halloween Candy Guide

No one keeps better tabs on the companies that are and are not practicing sustainability in their food production processes than the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  Their online shopping app is a handy tool for taking to the supermarket as you choose from the thousands of items for sale.  And now for Halloween, CMZ has just put out their Orangutan-Friendly Halloween Candy Guide.  Look it over and make smart choices this spooky season that are not only tasty but also better* for the future of orangutans and their rainforest home.


*The Orangutan Conservancy recognizes that 100% verification of where and how palm oil comes from is still a difficult task in 2017, and we hope better and more accountable verification methods happen soon.  For now, consumers are often left to some companies’ good will statements of being sustainable – maybe even a few on the list above.  As an informed consumer, make sure you do your own research, and remind the companies that make the products that you use that you expect them to be fully sustainable. 

posted by: Tom