The golden lion tamarin (scientific name Leontopithecus rosalia) is one of the most endangered monkeys today. As its name suggests, golden lion tamarin has a mane like that of a lion, although the tamarin is not from the feline family. Its fur is very attractive, with combination of rich colors including orange, brown, and black. It is almost the size of a squirrel, having an average length of 25 centimeters, and weighing about 0.5 kg. Males are generally larger than females, although they look the same.
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The golden lion tamarin is commonly found in Brazil. About 1,500 individuals live in the wild, particularly in the tropical forest of Rio de Janeiro and Espiritu Santo. On the other hand, an estimate of 400 individuals are kept in zoos all over the world.
Although they prefer the primary forest, they can also be found in secondary forest and some cultivated areas. Swamp forests also provide them a favorable habitat with its vines and bromeliads aiding their survival. The vines hide these little monkeys from the watchful eyes of their predators, while the bromeliads provide them with water and insects and other small vertebrates which serve as their foods.
The golden lion tamarin is omnivorous. About 80% of its food intake is fruits. During the drier seasons when fruits are not readily available, it feeds on gum, nectars, insects and small vertebrates.
The golden lion adapts well with their environment. They live in social groups, usually consisting of a male, a female, and younger individuals. They keep active during the day, lurking around the forest looking for food. When night falls, they settle in tousled shrubs or in tree holes. As with most of the activities in the day, sleeping is also done in groups. This choice of sleeping environment is primarily for protection from their predators. These small tight places also keep them warm at night.
“Population densities across vary due to the destruction of their habitat and the extremely low numbers of golden lion tamarins in the wild. Population distribution is based on size of the area, weather conditions, and availability of food. In the largest protected area in which they are found, there are about 12 individuals per square kilometer”.
However, population is largely lower in other areas with poorer conditions, where only 3 to 4 individuals are found per square kilometer. Because of the low population densities, golden lion tamarins experience less competition for food resources.
There used to be around 200 individuals in1970. “After more than 30 years of conservation efforts, their number is estimated to include more than 1,000 individuals. Successful re-introduction program can be credited with 1/3 of this number. However, because of the extreme fragmentation and degradation and loss of forest, there is little room for expansion”.
Reproduction is an important part in maintaining the specie’s population. The peak mating season is April and May. After a gestational period of about 130 days, the mother tamarin gives birth to one, or more often, twin liters. Golden lion tamarins also give birth to triplets and quadruplets, although the survival rate of the liters is very low. Birth season is between September to March.
Golden lion tamarins are monogamous and they help each other in bringing up their child. The mother feeds the liter, while the father carries and takes care of the young most of the time.
When a male reaches 18 months, or for females 24 months, golden tamarins are considered mature. They are therefore detached from their parents to live on their own. They then find their on mate and build new territories.
About 40% of the young population does not live past the age of 1 year. In the wild, golden lion tamarins have a life span of 15 years. On the other hand, the maximum life expectancy of 28 years when the monkeys are held in captivity. The oldest known golden lion tamarin is found to live for 31 years.
The golden lion tamarin is one of the most endangered mammals in the world. It has been endangered since 1960 and as put to near extinction in 1996. But several conservation programs have helped the slow increase in the numbers of the tamarin though it is still in danger. The small number of golden lion tamarins can be blamed on different factors.
First is the problem in predation. There are numerous animals in the forest that find these monkeys as a delightable cuisine. Some of these are eagles, hawks, owls, snakes, poachers, ocelots, bamboo rats, wild dogs, and cats. Due to this they have evolved to develop several adaptive mechanisms to aid their survival.
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Golden lion tamarins have noticeably sharp, claw-like nails called tegulae, and their fingers are long and thin. They use it for clinging on trees and for general locomotion. Their nails are important both in escaping from predators, and for catching insects in tight, hard to reach places. Their legs are also strong, which enables them to climb tall trees where they sleep at night.
Their group also helps to protect one another. They communicate to each other by producing soft sounds so that they will not attract predators. Whenever a predator is at sight, group members alarm the others by squealing. This warning is like a signal for them to hide in bushes or on the ground. On the other hand, larger groups are able to mob their predators to protect their group members, especially their loved ones. “Also when they are alone in a tree and an owl comes swooping over, as a survival strategy they flatten themselves against the tree, and grip the tree as hard as they can.” (Lee)
Aside from this, golden lion tamarines are also often harassed by parasites.
A major factor that caused the tamarins to be endangered is the destruction of their habitat due to massive deforestation. An estimated 90% of the tamarin’s habitat are destroyed. Less than 3% of the forest orginally inhabited by golden lion tamarins remains today. (Golden Lion Tamarins)The trees where they live in are being cut to produce charcoal, cattle pasture, construction of houses and other structures. Also, forest lands are being demolished and are transformed into crop plantations, housing projects, resorts, and other commercial establishments. Their habitat became smaller, therefore, only a small number of individuals can be sustained in the wild. A large part of the existing golden lion tamarin population is held in captive.
Because of their beautiful appearance, the golden lion tamarin has attracted human interest. They are hunted and are sold to some people as private pets. Some are hunted for display in the zoo. Their shiny golden fur is also sold in the market and is used for creating fashionable garments. This act is against the law and is punishable by a 2 year sentence in jail.
Measles and other viruses also caused several deaths of the tamarins. Population of these monkeys has also diminished because they are used in laboratory studies. Also, some were purposely killed due to the belief that they are carry dangerous diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
Several programs are oriented to help conserve these tiny creatures. Fortunately, the current trend in golden lion tamarin population is increasing. Some zoos help populate the tamarins by breeding them, although reproduction in captivity is poor that when they are free-ranged. After several tamarins are successfully brought up, they release some back into their natural habitat, although their survival rate is low. Poco de Antas, biological reserve in Brazil created for the rehabilitation of the golden lion tamarin, serves as the first habitat of tamarins that are being reintroduced to wildlife.
One can help save the golden lion tamarins by supporting groups that are dedicated to consereve the endangered animals. Tamarins, or any other wild animal for that matter, should never be made as pets. Also, products made from animal fur or skin should be rejected by the public.
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- Cawthon Lang, KA. “Primate Factsheets: Golden lion tamarin.” 2005. Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology.
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- Lee, Emma. “Golden Lion Tamarin.” 2003. Blue Planet Biomes. Web.
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