Tapanuli Orangutan: The Newest Species of Orangutans

By Sarah Michaels on December 13 2017 in Environment

Tapanuli orangutans live in the jungles of South Tapanuli, south of Lake Toba (pictured) in Sumatra.

The Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), is the newest described species of orangutans. Only described in 2017, Tapanuli orangutans inhibit South Tapanuli on Sumatra Island of Indonesia. The other two types of orangutans are Sumatra orangutans and Bornean orangutans. The latter two species of orangutans inhabit the north of Sumatra Island. Orangutans thrive in the rainforests of Sumatra and Bornea. Belonging to kingdom Animalia, Tapanuli orangutans is of the phylum Chordata, class Mammalia and the order of Primates.

Physical Description

Though the Bornean orangutans are close to the Tapanuli orangutan in features, the Tapanuli orangutan have flattened faces, smaller head sizes, as well as frizzier hair on their bodies. Of equal note, they have a unique diet, which may include items like conifer cones and caterpillars. In addition, the ‘long call’ of male Tapanuli orangutans differs from that of the other two species. Interestingly, female Tapanuli orangutans sport beards while their male counterparts have a pronounced moustache. Tapanuli orangutans also have a relatively large canine tooth as compared to the other two types of orangutans


Tapanuli orangutans find their ecological niche in tropical and subtropical watery forests. These forests lies south of Lake Toba in Sumatra. Tapanuli orangutans spread in a region of 1,000 square kilometers in the said habitat. The estimated total number of Tapanuli orangutans is less than 800, making the species incredibly rare. Tapanuli orangutans build nests to live in and are extremely shy.


Recently, scientists conducted an in-depth study on the genetic composition of 37 individual male orangutans. Special attention was on the skeleton of an adult male orangutan, which had suffered injuries from villagers. After seven days of medication, the orangutan succumbed to the injuries. Certain features of the teeth, the skull, and other physical characteristics differed with similar features from the other two species of orangutans. Comparisons between genes point out that Tapanuli orangutans separated from the Sumatran orangutans earlier than the Bornean orangutans.

Behavior and Mating

Tapanuli orangutans are very shy and hard to spot. As a result, the discovery and description of the species took a relatively long period. Researchers observe that you will seldom run into a group of these species in the dense forest. Often, empty nests are spotted but it is very rare to find the orangutans therein. Tapanuli orangutan males are ready for mating at age 15 while the females are at 12. The females produce distinct scents while males make sounds to invite each for mating.

Threats to Survival

Tapanuli orangutans are extremely imperiled species. The survival of this rare species of great apes is hard due to conflict with humankind, wildlife trade, logging, and hunting. There is a gold mine near them, and an even more dangerous threat is the proposed establishment of a hydroelectric power within their niche. Thus, Tapanuli orangutan faces a danger of habitat loss. All these factors show that the newly described species may become extinct before its full description. The situation is dire since the orangutans thrive in one area making it easy to wipe them out. However, strict conservation measures are in place to enhance the conservation of the orangutans.

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