Golden Lion Tamarin

Description and biology

Tamarins, also known as marmosets, are unique New World (Western Hemisphere) monkeys that have a golden mane and long, silky fur. The most striking of the tamarins is the golden lion tamarin, which has a flaming reddish–gold coat and a luxuriant mane.

It has an average head and body length of 8 to 13 inches (20 to 33 centimeters) and weighs between 21 and 28 ounces (595 and 794 grams). Its furry tail measures 12 to 16 inches (30 to 41 centimeters) long.

Golden lion tamarins are tree dwellers. Active during the day, they travel from tree to tree, feeding on fruit, insects, plant matter, and other small animals.

The animals often form family groups ranging from two to eight members. A male–female pair forms the center of the group. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of 126 to 132 days, female golden lion tamarins normally give birth to twins. Most births occur between September and March. Both mother and father share responsibility for raising their young.

Habitat and current distribution

The golden lion tamarin prefers to inhabit tropical forests along the Atlantic coast at altitudes below 1,300 to 1,600 feet (396 to 488 meters). The animal is usually found 10 to 33 feet (3 to 10 meters) above the ground in trees where dense vines and interlacing branches provide cover.

The animal is limited to the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. In the 1970s, biologists (people who study living organisms) estimated that only about 200 golden lion tamarins existed in the wild. Since then, with much work from conservations (people who protect nature), the population has increased to 1,000 and the animal’s natural habitat has expanded.

History and conservation measures

The home of the golden lion tamarin is one of the most densely populated parts of Brazil. The major cause of the animal’s decline has been—and continues to be—the clearing of its forest habitat.

Trees are cut down to supply the lumber market and to create farmland and grazing land for domestic animals. As a result, only isolated pockets of forest provide suitable habitat for the golden lion tamarin. The animal is still extremely endangered.

The Poco D’Anta Reserve was established in Rio de Janeiro specifically to protect the golden lion tamarin. The area of forest under protection in the early 2000s is about 41,000 acres (16,600 hectares). Since 1984, 147 captive–born golden lion tamarin have been successfully released into the wild. Mostly have gone to the Poco D’Anta Reserve.

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and the Rio de Janeiro Primate Center have exchanged golden lion tamarins in an effort to prevent members of the same family from mating. This helps keep captive populations of the animal as genetically diverse as possible.