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Among great apes, orangutans are humans' most distant cousins. These tree dwellers sport a coat of fine reddish hair and have long been endangered in their native habitats in the rain forests of Sumatra and Borneo in Southeast Asia.
"The average orangutan is more diverse -- genetically speaking -- than the average human," says lead author Devin Locke, PhD, an evolutionary geneticist at Washington University's Genome Center. "We found deep diversity in both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, but it's unclear whether this level of diversity can be maintained in light of continued widespread deforestation."
"Orangutans spend more than 95 percent of their time in the trees," Locke says. "They travel through the trees, nest in trees and forage for food in trees. But all the genetic diversity in the world can't save them in the wild if their habitat is destroyed."