The Tapanuli orangutan is a sensational discovery – it was only recognized as a distinct species in 2017 and it is already facing extinction. Only 800 individuals remain, hidden in a small patch of forest in northern Sumatra. A Chinese hydropower project may soon destroy their habitat.
It was only in November 2017 that scientists found that the orangutans in Tapanuli are a distinct species and not a subspecies of the Sumatran orangutan. They gave them the name Pongo tapanuliensis. Genome analyses have shown that the Tapanuli orangutan split from the Borneo orangutan line 670,000 years ago. Pongo tapanuliensis is thus the rarest and most critically endangered orangutan species.
This discovery shows us just how little we know about our closest relatives and how incomplete our understanding of biodiversity remains. Humans are driving other species to extinction faster than we can discover and document them. The Tapanuli orangutans will also face that fate if a massive hydropower project is realized in their habitat.
800 individuals – the last of their kind – cling to survival in a forest south of Lake Toba. In Batang Toru Forest, the state-owned Chinese hydropower company Sinohydro wants to build a dam for a 510 MW power plant as part of China's Belt & Road mega-infrastructure initiative.
Wildlife experts are horrified: The dam would destroy the only habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, marking the beginning of the end of the world’s rarest primate.
Rainforest Rescue ask to sign a petition to stop the hydropower dam project.