Discovery to Extinction: A Short Road
It cannot be often that a relatively newly discovered species is almost immediately put at risk by us too. The Tapanuli Orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) was actually spotted a long time ago in the sweltering rain forests of Sumatra, Indonesia. But it wasn’t until a 2017 study that the species was officially recognised.
Almost immediately this great ape was classed as critically endangered, with only an estimated 800 individuals remaining. Environmentalists were clear about the reasons, citing habitat destruction both natural (volcano eruptions) and manmade (logging operations). Furthermore, genetic markers were discovered that showed inbreeding was occurring within the species, a sure sign that something was very wrong.
But it gets worse – much worse. The state-run Bank of China is investing in a hydroelectric dam project that is planned for the area these fascinating creatures call home. Outraged environmentalists got to work, did their homework and found that the Batang Toru Dam project would put the species on the brink of extinction as it would further divide their habitat that is already fragmented into three distinct and separate areas. Populations would plummet further and the end would be almost inevitable.
However, in a recent legal action (isn’t it curious that the wheels of justice run at a snail’s pace until greased a little?) a provincial court dismissed the environmentalists’ case, ignoring both specific and broader concerns, not only relating to the orangutans but to the wider implications for the local community. Needless to say the plaintiffs have vowed to fight on. This has taken the form of demonstrations outside various Bank of China offices worldwide, with the bank stating on its website they will look again at the project. We can only hope.
With thanks to the National Geographic, this stunning 1m video shows what we may about to lose.