The good news: a new species of orangutan has been discovered by scientists on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The bad news: The species is already endangered.

Two distinct species of orangutans are already recognized, the Guardian notes the Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran (Pondo abelii) orangutan. The discovery of the new species of orangutan, named the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), makes for the third. The researchers compared skull and jaw sizes, as well as characteristics such as their facial hair and concluded that the Tapanuli orangutan is indeed a new species. “It is incredibly exciting to describe a new species of ape,” said Serge Wich, a professor in primate biology at Liverpool John Moores University and a co-author of the research.

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While it is exciting, sadly, fewer than 800 of the new species of orangutan are thought to exist across the Sumatran forest area. Already this new species of orangutan has the lowest head-count of all great apes, due to the illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss, the scientist’s notes.

Orangutans share about 97 percent of the same DNA as humans and are very similar to us in many ways, but because of our own actions, the fate of these amazing animals has been compromised. Being that they are an arboreal species, they are dependent on the lush rainforest environment for their livelihood. Tragically, the area of rainforest across these islands has declined by over 80 percent in the past two decades alone, primarily due to palm oil production.

It’s currently estimated around 300 football fields of rainforest are leveled every hour to make way for palm oil plantations. Without the rainforest, orangutans are forced onto palm oil plantations where they are viewed as “pests” and either shot point blank or captured and sold into the illegal wildlife trade. If their habitat continues to be destroyed, they have little to no chance at survival and scientists estimate they could be extinct from the wild in the next 20 years. Such widespread deforestation is only the first link in a devastating chain reaction which includes massive loss of biodiversity, destruction of critical habitats, soil erosion, pollution, and climate change. Plus, human and animal rights have both been violated in the name of palm oil production.

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“We must do everything possible to protect the habitats in which these magnificent animals occur, not only because of them, but also because of all the other animal and plant species that we can protect at the same time,” University of Zurich evolutionary geneticist Michael Krützen told Reuters.

The good news is we can, on a consumer level, help reduce the suffering of the orangutan species. Check out our list of palm oil-free alternatives for everything from baking to cleaning to personal hygiene. And, if you happen to have a sweet tooth or suffer a sudden snack craving, say no to prepackaged foods (which are the most likely place to find palm oil!). For more information on how to ditch palm oil, click here.

And please help raise awareness by spreading the word about dirty palm oil through social media and word of mouth! The future of the orangutan is in our hands.

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Image Source: skeeze/Pixabay