Orangutans (Pongo spp.) are reported to have extremely slow life histories, including the longest average interbirth intervals of all mammals. Such slow life history can be viable only when unavoidable mortality is kept low. Thus, orangutans' survivorship under natural conditions is expected to be extremely high. Previous estimates of orangutan life history were based on captive individuals living under very different circumstances or on small samples from wild populations. Here, we combine birth data from seven field sites, each with demographic data collection for at least 10 years (range 12-43 years) on wild orangutans to better document their life history. Using strict criteria for data inclusion, we calculated infant survival, interbirth intervals and female age at first reproduction, across species, subspecies and islands. We found an average closed interbirth interval of 7.6 years, as well as consistently very high pre-weaning survival for males and females. Female survival of 94% until age at first birth (at around age 15 years) was higher than reported for any other mammal species under natural conditions. Similarly, annual survival among parous females is very high, but longevity remains to be estimated. Current data suggest no major life history differences between Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. The high offspring survival is remarkable, noting that modern human populations seem to have reached the same level of survival only in the 20th century. The orangutans' slow life history illustrates what can be achieved if a hominoid bauplan is exposed to low unavoidable mortality. Their high survival is likely due to their arboreal and non-gregarious lifestyle, and has allowed them to maintain viable populations, despite living in low-productivity habitats. However, their slow life history also implies that orangutans are highly vulnerable to a catastrophic population crash in the face of drastic habitat change.
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 . Designation of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, P. pygmaeus (Linnaeus 1760) and P. abelii (Lesson 1827), as distinct species occurred in 2001 [1, 2]. Here, we show that an isolated population from Batang Toru, at the southernmost range limit of extant Sumatran orangutans south of Lake Toba, is distinct from other northern Sumatran and Bornean populations. By comparing cranio-mandibular and dental characters of an orangutan killed in a human-animal conflict to those of 33 adult male orangutans of a similar developmental stage, we found consistent differences between the Batang Toru individual and other extant Ponginae. Our analyses of 37 orangutan genomes provided a second line of evidence. Model-based approaches revealed that the deepest split in the evolutionary history of extant orangutans occurred ∼3.38 mya between the Batang Toru population and those to the north of Lake Toba, whereas both currently recognized species separated much later, about 674 kya. Our combined analyses support a new classification of orangutans into three extant species. The new species, Pongo tapanuliensis, encompasses the Batang Toru population, of which fewer than 800 individuals survive. VIDEO ABSTRACT.
A recent report, published by the Government of Indonesia with support from the Food and Agricultural Organization and Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative, states that orangutan populations (Pongo spp.) have increased by more than 10% in Indonesia from 2015 to 2017, exceeding the government target of an annual 2% population increase . This assessment is in strong contrast with recent publications that showed that the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus) lost more than 100,000 individuals in the past 16 years  and declined by at least 25% over the past 10 years . Furthermore, recent work has also demonstrated that both Sumatran orangutans (P. abelii) and the recently described Tapanuli orangutan (P. tapanuliensis) lost more than 60% of their key habitats between 1985 and 2007, and ongoing land use changes are expected to result in an 11-27% decline in their populations by 2020 [4,5]. Most scientific data indicate that the survival of these species continues to be seriously threatened by deforestation and killing [4,6,7] and thus all three are Critically Endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.
Orangutan survival is threatened by habitat loss and illegal killing. Most wild populations will disappear over the next few decades unless threats are abated. Saving orangutans is ultimately in the hands of the governments and people of Indonesia and Malaysia, which need to ensure that habitats of viable orangutan populations are protected from deforestation and well managed to ensure no hunting takes place. Companies working in orangutan habitat also have to play a much bigger role in habitat management. Although the major problems and the direct actions required to solve them-reducing forest loss and hunting-have been known for decades, orangutan populations continue to decline. Orangutan populations in Sumatra and Borneo have declined by between 2,280 and 5,250 orangutans annually over the past 25 years. As the total current population for the two species is some 60,000 animals in an area of about 90,000 km(2) , there is not much time left to make conservation efforts truly effective. Our review discusses what has and has not worked in conservation to guide future conservation efforts.