- The Tapanuli orangutan was described in 2017 as a new great ape species, and with a population of less than 800, is the most endangered great ape on the planet.
- Its habitat has been drastically reduced by deforestation driven by mining, agriculture and logging.
- A Chinese-backed hydropower dam project, under construction since 2015, is cutting across the forests where the orangutans live, increasing their risk of extinction.
- People living in surrounding areas have opposed the dam project over fears of losing their homes and livelihoods, but have faced attempts to silence their resistance.
In 2017, the Tapanuli orangutan was identified as a new species of great ape — and immediately became the most endangered great ape on the planet, with a total population of less than 800. The orangutans are restricted to a small area of the Batang Toru ecosystem in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, where they face threats from the illegal wildlife trade, mining, conflicts with humans, and a planned hydroelectric dam.
A 2021 study found that the great apes have lost almost 97.5% of their habitat over the past 130 years. The $1.6 billion dam project, funded and built by Chinese companies and expected to supply clean electricity to North Sumatra, risks further fragmentation of their habitat and threatens to cut off the connectivity between separate population groups, making prospects for their survival even more difficult. Despite efforts by activists, locals and conservation groups, the dam project is still under construction, pushing the Tapanuli orangutan ever closer to the brink of extinction.