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New orang utan species found in Indonesia

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JAKARTA: A new species of orang utan has been discovered in the remote jungles of Indonesia, immediately becoming the world's most endangered great ape, researchers said on Thursday.

"It is the first declaration of a new great ape species in about 100 years," Dr Ian Singleton, co-author of the study and director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, told AFP.

The species, called Tapanuli orang utan, lives in the Batang Toru forest on Sumatra island, and numbers about 800.

Until recently, scientists thought there were only two genetically distinct types of orang utan - Bornean and Sumatran.

But in 1997, researchers at the Australian National University discovered an isolated population of the great apes in Batang Toru, and scientists began to study the group to see if it was a unique species.

Researchers studied the DNA, skulls and teeth of 33 orang utans killed in human-animal conflict before concluding they had indeed discovered a new species.

The Tapanuli orang utan has a "prominent moustache", according to the findings published in the journal Current Biology.

Its skull and bone structure are slightly different from its relatives and so is its behaviour, with the long calls of males lasting on average 21 seconds longer with a greater number of pulses.

Sumatran and Bornean orang utans are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Sumatran orang utan population is estimated to be under 15,000, while about 54,000 orang utans are thought to live in Borneo.