Scientists have identified an isolated group of orangutans in the Sumatran forest of Batang Toru as an entirely new species, which they named as Pongo tapanuliensis. However, the species has also been listed as endangered, with fewer than 800 surviving members.
Pongo Tapanuliensis: An Endangered Species
Activities such as the illegal trade of animals, killings during conflicts between human and orangutans over crops, and illegal road construction threaten the existence of the newly discovered species of great apes.
Habitat conversion for agricultural plantations, geothermal development, mining exploitation and exploration, and small-scale agriculture also threaten significant areas of the Batang Toru orangutan's range.
The Batang Toru orangutan also faces an imminent threat from a hydroelectric dam, the proposed development of which could affect nearly 8 percent of the ape’s population.
The authors of a study, published on Nov. 2 in the journal Current Biology, have recommended that development plans for the hydropower plant should be stopped by the government. Furthermore, it is crucial that a local management body works to make sure that the Batang Toru ecosystem is protected.
In addition, primatologist Stephanie Spehar from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh said that conservation measures in Indonesia are usually complicated and difficult, and it requires the cooperation of NGOs, private companies, and local communities, apart from government help.
However, the conservation director of the Orangutan Project and coauthor of the paper Ian Singleton has hopes from Indonesia’s changing political climate because there is a whole new generation of well-informed citizens who could perhaps eventually manage the country’s natural resources better.
“I can see some improvements over the coming decades,” Singleton said. “The challenge, however, is to ensure there are still forests then.” The research team also added that conservation measures need to be implemented swiftly to ensure the long-term survival of the species.
Orangutan Conservation In Indonesia
Recent land-use status changes in Indonesia have brought more orangutans under protection, as a large tract of forest land in West Batang Toru has been designated as protection forest instead of its former designation of being a production forest.
Though the status is not similar to being formally recognized conservation area, it means that the area is no longer unavailable to non-forest uses such as forest conversion or extractive industry.
The area of Batang Toru may be relatively small. However, it is a crucial one because of its genetically and behaviorally distinct orangutan population. Moreover, the provincial government had established the first management authority focused on the Batang Toru ecosystem in March, according to a report.
How Humans Can Save The Orangutan
Conservationist Gabriella Fredriksson, associated with Indonesia’s Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, said that a primary task for conservation groups is to work with local communities to reduce hunting and illegal tree-cutting. However, at the same time, she feels that for the residents of Batang Toru, a new species of orangutan is not very exciting.
Therefore, conservationists will have to think of creative ways to enlist the help of the local people living in the vicinity, such as by promoting tourism and other benefits of having a healthy forest, to ensure the survival of the Pongo tapanuliensis.
On their part, the Orangutan Foundation International has a couple of projects running to help save the orangutans, such as the HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project, which has collaborated with the Sabah Wildlife Department to elect members of local communities as honorary wildlife wardens.
The wardens enforce laws, apprehend offenders, and engage in community outreach and conservation programs in the area. The wardens play a critical ground role in responding to appropriate law enforcement for illegal logging, encroachment, and other human activities.
Humans at a basic level can help save orangutans by buying FSC-certified forest products and certified sustainable palm oil to help protect the habitat of orangutans, as this will limit illegal logging and forest conversion to oil palm plantations, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.