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Discrimination of two species of Orangutan (Pongo sp.): A rapid protocol for rehabilitation centres and zoos
Researcher : D. Perwitasari, Farajallah
Published : 2008
Group :Wildlife/Animal
Full Report : Special request
Abstract :
The endangered orangutan (Pongo sp.) exists in the wild only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.  At present the orangutan is listed as a CITES Appendix 1 Endangered Species (most endangered).  Orangutans are taxonomically classified as two distinct subspecies, the Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus) and the Sumatran (Pongo pygmaeus abelli), based primarily on their distinctive morphological and behavioral characteristics (Groves 1971).  However some authors have recently argued that the populations should be promoted to species status (Zhi et al. 1996; Xu and Arnason 1996; Muir et al 2000) because the differences between the two subspecies are almost the same as or even higher than those between recognized species e.g., chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) vs. bonobo (Pan paniscus), horse (Equus caballus) vs. donkey (Equus asianus).  These studies have been based on morphology (size, hair color, beard, size of cheek pads) and genetics (allozymes, nuclear RFLPs, mtDNA sequence, and chromosomal inversions) which seem to have correlations with the island of origin.
Nowadays, orangutans exist in increasingly fragmented and isolated populations.  While Sumatran orangutan is primarily found in northern Sumatra, the Bornean is distributed in Central, West, and East Kalimantan, Sarawak and Sabah.  However, they are not found in Brunei and South Kalimantan (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999).  The determination of intra- and inter-species variation between Bornean and Sumatran orangutans has been stated to be essential for both the management of orangutan reintroduction projects and the planning of conservation strategies to preserve the remaining wild populations (Janczewski, Goldman & O’Brien 1990; Uchida 1996).
This study aimed to identify two species of Orangutans (Pongo sp.) by means of RFLP (Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphisms) analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).  In addition, the goal of this study is to generate important ‘rapid protocol’ for species identification of Orangutans. 
An approximately 540 bp single fragment of the ND5 gene near the 5’-region was PCR amplified for all samples tested.  Among 483 bp sequences evaluated in the alignments, a total of 15 sites were considered to be unique in each species of orangutans. 
Digestion pattern for both AluI and MseI were different between two groups of ND5 fragments in this study.  Digestion result using Mse I revealed polymorphisms within Bornean orangutans; single band and two bands.  Sumatran orangutans also showed two bands although their sizes were different from those in Bornean orangutans.
Present result revealed a rapid protocol to identify these two species by means of RFLP (Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism) analyses of mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA).  This technique can be applied easily to rehabilitation centres and zoos to resolve species discrimination problem.  However further study are required for assessment of molecular variation within Bornean orangutan due to four subpopulations are identified.