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Golden-headed lion tamarin

Scientific name: Leontopithecus chrysomelas

Country: BrazilGolden-headed lion tamarin

Continent: South America

Diet: Insects - insectivore, fruit - frugivore, small lizards.

Food & feeding: Omnivore

Habitats: Tropical Rainforest

Conservation status: Endangered

Relatives: Black lion tamarin, golden lion tamarin

Description: The golden-headed lion tamarin is a small, squirrel-sized monkey, about 26 cm long with a 35 cm tail and long golden lion-like mane. It is predominantly black with golden fur to the front of the mane, the lower half of the front paws and part of the tail. The face, hands and feet remain bare. The feet have sharp claws (most other primates have nails) that are useful for gripping and climbing branches and also for grabbing their insect meals.

Lifestyle: During the day the golden-headed lion tamarins roam their territory looking for food. Their diet consists of sweet pulpy fruits, insects and small lizards. They are especially fond of the small invertebrates that live in pools of rainwater, collected in bromeliad cups in the upper forest canopy. They will also feed on the forest floor, rummaging through the leaf-litter in search or insects. As evening falls, the tamarins return to their nest, usually a hole in a hollow tree. The entrance hole to the nest is too small for most nocturnal predators of the region, so they can sleep safely.

Family & friends: It lives in small family groups of about four or five animals, consisting of a breeding pair and their youngest offspring. The young will stay with their parents after they are weaned and will help their parents raise the newest young. The parents have a strong pair-bond and will stay with each other for life.

Keeping in touch: Their territory boundaries are marked using scent glands located on the chest and genital areas. Like other tamarins, they produce a range of calls ticks, clucks and whines that are used to communicate with other group members and from time to time with neighbouring groups. The adult's brightly coloured fur is probably also a way of demonstrating their health and vigour to their partner and the rest of the group.

Growing up: The female will give birth to one or usually two infants, after a gestation period of about 130 days. They are born fully furred and with their eyes open, although strongly dependent on their family for another three to five months. All members of the group will help to carry infants, with the adult male commonly doing the largest share. This means that the female is has more time to look for food, especially important as she must not only find food for herself but also eat enough to produce milk for the young. This Infant care by young animals is not only helpful to the mother, but enables the young animals to practice parenting skills. Those animals, which have had such infant experience, make much better parents - an important consideration when pairing animals in the captive breeding programme.

Tamarins were thought to be carriers of human diseases such as yellow fever and malaria - and were killed for this reason. Today, chocolate offers hope for the golden-headed lion tamarin, as they like to live in the trees that are grown for shade in rainforest areas where cocoa (chocolate) is grown.

Conservation news: It is estimated that there are between 6,000 and 14,000 golden-headed lion tamarins left in the wild. More than 90% of the original Atlantic coastal forest has been lost or fragmented due to agricultural, urban and resort development. In addition, the capture of animals for laboratories and the pet trade has contributed to the decline. Zoos across the world including Bristol Zoo Gardens have coordinated their approach to saving the tamarins from extinction.