CITES - Appendix I
IUCN - Endangered
Where to see them:
Orkin’s Children Zoo
Golden lion tamarins have a number of features that are atypical for the Order Primates.
Their thumbs are not fully opposable and their hallux (big toe) is located back from the other digits (similar to a bird’s big toe) and retained its flat nail.
Unlike most New World primates, golden lion tamarin tails are not prehensile.
Golden Lion Tamarin
On average, adults (male and female) weigh 17 to 24 ounces (481.9 to 680.4 grams) and measure 6 to 10 inches (15.2 to 25.4 cm) not including the tail, which measures about 12 to 15 inches (32 to 40 cm).
Atlantic coast of southeastern Brazil
Mata Atlantica – swampy, coastal rainforest
Golden lion tamarins occupy the sub-canopy, often remaining 5 to 20 feet above the ground. They seem to prefer a humid, closed canopy forest with many vines, which provide protection from aerial predators and easy arboreal pathways. Bromeliads and other epiphytes act as important water sources and as host to many insects and small vertebrates that are important tamarin foods.
Golden lion tamarins (GLTs) live in family social groups of two to eight individuals – typically, a breeding pair, one or two generations of offspring, and possibly other relatives. A group’s territory averages about 100 acres (40 hectares) which they actively defend through vocalizations, scent marking, territory patrols and ritualized group encounters.
In the morning, just after dawn, the adults emerge first. Before leaving the safety of their night quarters, long-call vocalizations are given to re-establish their territorial boundaries and to warn possible intruders of their presence. During the morning hours, the family spends much of its time searching for and eating ripe fruits. To conserve energy, the group rests during the warmer mid-day hours and will engage in mutual grooming bouts after which they concentrate their foraging efforts on insects and small vertebrates before travelling to one of their sleeping sites.
Retiring at dusk, GLTs use tree cavities as sleeping quarters and protection against predators. At the bottom of the hollow the family will huddle together for warmth and protection. The male and female of the dominant pair are the last to enter, and the dominant male will position himself between his family and the opening.
Food is shared between group members, either passively (tolerated stealing) or actively (food offered to another), usually with the food being passed from older to younger individuals.
Golden lion tamarins are omnivorous - feeding on fruits, vegetation, insects and small invertebrates, birds’ eggs, small reptiles, nectars and exudates. Sometimes, smaller arboreal animals are a potential food source. Using their long hands and slender fingers to probe crevices, bark, and bromeliads - a foraging method called micromanipulation - they actively search for insect and invertebrate prey.
Zoo diet consists of a variety of fruits and vegetables including apples, pears, grapes, bananas, melons, peaches, plum, carrots, corn, sweet potatoes, and green beans. In order to meet their protein requirements, they also receive waxworms, mealworms, and crickets. Commercially- prepared canned marmoset diet is the foundation of their diet and provides the minimum nutritional daily requirements.
A single breeding pair resides in each family group. Sexual maturity is attained at 18 months for females and at 2 years for males; however, males maintain fecundity for two years more than females. Breeding season in the wild occurs between September and March, the warmest and wettest time of year. Under the right conditions (i.e. abundant resources, especially in captivity), it is possible for a female to give birth twice a year.
After a gestation period of about 4.5 months (126-130 days), a female typically gives birth to twins. Triplets, though rare, are possible and occur more often in captive populations. At birth, the golden lion tamarin is fully furred with eyes open and weighs an average of 60 grams. Weaning typically takes place at the age of 3 months.
Unlike most primates, GLTs cooperatively parent their young. The dominant male becomes the primary caregiver when infants reach 3 to 4 weeks of age, with the infants returning to the mother for nursing. All members of the group will carry and care for the infants; however, the adult male undertakes the largest share in concert with older male offspring.
The first year of life is the most difficult for GLTs; those wild individuals who survive usually live an average of 8 years. Captive individuals may live up to 20+ years in captivity; the average is 14.2 years. The record for longevity is held by a male GLT, who died in 1999 at the San Antonio Zoo (Texas) at the age of 31 years old!
Some of My Neighbors (IN THE WILD)
Otter, peccary, giant anteater, tapir, spiny rat, chauá, red-billed currasow, Pyrrhura parrots, blue and yellow macaw, howler monkey, wooly spider monkey.
Population Status & Threats
Hawks, eagles and other raptors, cats (jaguar, ocelot, and jaguarundi), weasels and large snakes are the chief natural predators of golden lion tamarins. However, habitat loss, as a result of agricultural activities and human population expansion, is the main threat to tamarins and many other species in the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest. Of the less than 8% of original forest that remains, only 3% is suitable for golden lion tamarins.
More than 30 years of conservation efforts have increased the wild population from fewer than 200 individuals to today’s estimated population of 1,600 tamarins. In order for the wild population to continue to be viable and self-sustaining, the numbers must increase to 2,000 by the year 2025. To facilitate this increase, the following must occur: habitat expansion through the planting of forest corridors to connect fragments and the acquisition of additional private lands, encourage and instruct local residents in sustainable agricultural practices, expand field research and training of Brazilian students, and increase conservation awareness through education.
Zoo Atlanta Conservation Efforts
The Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program is a multi-disciplinary, international effort focused on conserving GLTs and their habitat. The project is administered by the Department of Conservation Biology at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in cooperation with the Brazilian government, Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Resources and Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado. As one of the seven original institutions involved with the reintroduction program, Zoo Atlanta has maintained its connection with the overall program since 1992, releasing two family groups to Brazil, providing vital comparative captive data to the program, and maintaining its commitment to public education and outreach. Currently, one of only three zoos that continue to free-range this species, Zoo Atlanta has recently bolstered its involvement in golden lion tamarin conservation through Conservation Endowment Fund grants to Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado for forest corridor construction and an endowed conservation education internship.