Sunday, August 22, 2010

Evidence for new ape species?

The Center for Fortean Zoology (CFZ, with the "Fortean" being a reference to an indefatigable 20th-century collector of oddities) is a British-based cryptozoology society which goes about everything with typical British tongue-in-cheek humor. One of the CFZ's pet (ha-ha) interests is the unclassified ape, the orang-pendek, reported from Sumatra and thereabouts. The CFZ's Adam Davies has led several field expeditions in pursuit of evidence, and now reports results.
readers of this blog may recall I posted on the announcement hairs had been recovered in 2009 from an orang-pendek sighting. As with hairs found in 2001, they have been analyzed by interested scientists and reported out as having DNA similar - but not identical - to orang-utan DNA.
One of those scientists, Lars Thomas, says, "The significance is quite enormous no matter what the result is basically, because if it turns out to be orang-utan this proves that there is orang-utan in a part of Sumatra several hundred kilometres from the nearest population of orang-utan. If it turns out to be a primate that looks like an orang-utan but isn’t, it’s an even greater discovery because that proves that there is another great ape living in Indonesia."
The orang-pendek is very respectable as mystery animals go. Internationally known tiger conservationist Debbie Martyr has reported seeing the reddish, habitually upright primate several times, and the renowned Dr. John MacKinnon once came upon tracks of a small, unidentified primate walking bipedally. Anthropologist Dale Drinnon, in a comment to the CFZ side, suggested that a small type of orang-utan with a normally upright posture could solve several unexplained animal reports, not just on Sumatra but in surrounding land masses. Martyr and others suggest it's a new type of gibbon, although the DNA results cast doubt on that (assuming the hairs are indeed from our quarry).
I wrote to the CFZ's Adam Davies after he sent me this announcement and asked the obvious question. If analysis indicates a new species here, when are we going to see the results in a peer-reviewed journal like Nature? Surely the topic is important enough for a journal to accept it if the science is well done, and the peer review process (though not perfect) will mean scientists with no connection to CFZ will be validating the DNA results.
Adam replied, "As ever, you ask good questions,I don't know the answer yet,but I will ask. I have met Henry Gee from Nature magazine before, and we got on very well. Lars is still carrying on the testing, and hopes to get better info. I promise you that I will let you know, when I know." (He added that information on the expeditions he has led, and future ones, is also available at another site,
So there you have it. Promising, but not yet definitive. Adam has promised to keep me in the loop and I shall do the same for you.

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