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Chinese-Funded Project Threatens World’s Rarest Orangutan Species To Possible Extinction

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A new study casts a spotlight on threats faced by the Tapanuli Orangutans, the species of ape that are considered one of the rarest animals on Earth.

The species were just discovered in 2017 in Sumatra, Indonesia, however, it could now be wiped out from the planet due to environmental hazards to their natural habitat.

The authors of the new study asserted that the most imminent threat to the species is the United States's planned $1.6 billion venture involving the construction of a hydro-electric dam in the area. The team said the project will be funded by Chinese investors and constructed by the Chinese state-owned corporation, Sinohydro.

"Without urgent action, this could be ecological Armageddon for one of our closest living relatives," warns William Laurance, a professor from the James Cook University in Australia and the head researcher of the team.

Rarest Ape To Possibly Go Extinct

Jatna Supriatna, a professor from the University of Indonesia and co-author of the new study, highlighted that the species were just the seventh kind of Great Ape ever discovered, but it could possibly go extinct right in their presence.

"Fewer than 800 of the apes survive and they're under assault from mega-projects, deforestation, road building, and poaching," said Dean Sloan, the lead author of the study published in the journal Current Biology.

Sloan added that Tapanuli Orangutans' habitat is extremely undersized. The area, which they have considered home, is no larger than one-tenth the size of Sydney, Australia.

If the construction of the Batang Toru dam goes as planned, it will flood the apes' habitat. It is also expected that new roads and power lines would be built to accommodate the expected increase of human activities in the area. The team said the species could only survive areas with virtually no roads.

Laurance said the plight of the Tapanuli Orangutan is the most dramatic he has witnessed in his 40 years of research as the situation would be a critical test for both China and Indonesia. Laurance added that these two countries have been vocal about their desire to promote sustainable development, but said that "words are cheap."

The Batang Toru Dam Project

The dam is originally planned to be constructed in the richest part of the Batang Toru ecosystem where the highest volume of the last remaining Tapanuli Orangutans is residing.

As expected, the project will pave the way for major infrastructure. Hydropower lines are estimated to pass through the forest. The connections for the infrastructure could further divide and destroy the already fragmented portions of the apes' habitat.

Aside from perils the dam could bring to the Tapanuli Orangutans, the venture is also threatening to destroy the migration of the Jurong fish, which is said to be economically important in the region.

Furthermore, the whole of the Batang Toru ecosystem is reportedly allocated for other uses based on a policy implemented by the South Tapanuli District Government.

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