Archive | January 2018

Sumatra – Monday Map

When Marco Polo visited the island Sumatra in 1292 he recorded its name as Samarcha.

Much of the population had already converted to Islam by that time. But nearly three-hundred years earlier the “King of the Land of Sumatra” (Haji Sumatrabhumi) had sent an envoy to China in 1017. And long before that it was known as the Land of Gold, because of the mines in its highlands.

Sumatra 1588 map onemanz.com

Map from 1588

And before international jetliners, it was about as far away as one could go, the very edge of the earth, and as exotic an alien world as ever visited by Westerners outside of science fiction.

Below is a section of a much larger map of South East Asia from 1710, with an example of the wonderful detail.

Sumatra 1710 section onemanz.comSumatra 1710 map detail onemanz.com

Until well into the twentieth century most of the Sumatran interior was dense rain forest jungles. Over 50% of its natural forests have been removed for farming and human population requirements. The result is the serious endangerment of its many native species, like the Sumatran tiger and the newly discovered the Tapanuli Orangutan, the first new member of the Great Apes in almost a century.

New Great Ape Species Identified as Tapanuli Orangutan

Pongo tapanuliensis declared separate species of Orangutan

First encountered in 1997, it joins Humans, Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Bonobos, and the other Orangutans as true Great Apes

There was much to hoot about at the end of 2017, at least if you are among the orangutans hidden deep in the forests of Tapanuli, in Northern Sumatra, as they have been declared a new species of Great Ape in scientific paper “Morphometric, Behavioral, and Genomic Evidence for a New Orangutan Species,” published in the November 20 issue of Current Biology. And that declaration was based partly on the animals enormous hooting calls, which can be heard for many miles.

New Great Ape SpeciesThis is the first new species in almost a century to become a member of the exclusive evolutionary club that includes us Homo sapiens. The bonobo, a close evolutionary cousin of the chimpanzee was identified in 1929. In addition it unique vocalizations, the species has genetic differences, and differences in the shape of its skull and teeth spacing from the other two orangs, the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus, with three subspecies) and the Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii,) which were themselves declared separate species in 1996.

Photo: T. Laman

The bad news is, the scant 800 known members of this new species of orang are already among the most endangered species on earth. They reside in a small area of Northern Sumatra, with habitat already under siege by the industrious progress of mankind, about to build a dam and roads that could devastate this delicate ecosystem.

It is hoped these shy, gentle creatures will be championed by humans with the foresight to keep them from vanishing just as we come to know them better.

New Great Ape Species Sumatra inset map New Great Ape Species map

3D Map Courtesy of: Physical Panoramic Map of Kab. Tapanuli Utara (with my habitat overlay)

Highlights of the paper and the start of its summery include:

* We describe a new species of great apes, the Tapanuli orangutan Pongo tapanuliensis

*Genomic analyses corroborate morphological distinctiveness of P. tapanuliensis

* P. tapanuliensis comprises the oldest evolutionary lineage in the genus Pongo

* With fewer than 800 individuals, P. tapanuliensis is among the most endangered great apes

Summary

Six extant species of non-human great apes are currently recognized: Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, and chimpanzees and bonobos. However, large gaps remain in our knowledge of fine-scale variation in hominoid morphology, behavior, and genetics, and aspects of great ape taxonomy remain in flux. This is particularly true for orangutans (genus: Pongo), the only Asian great apes and phylogenetically our most distant relatives among extant hominids.

The paper may be acquired at Cell.com.

http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)31245-9

Other reading:

BBC Story on P. tapanuliensis with adorable video

National Geographic Story

Nature Story

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas…

Today is the last day of Christmas. Make the most of your Twelfth Night by partaking in some of these tried and true traditions:

nibbling favorite dainties, sipping something scintillating, explaining to the local constabulary that you were simply wassailing a few apple trees to insure a productive harvest.

Or enjoy a little Twelfth Night or what you will.