Golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia)

French: Singe-lion, Tamarin Soyeux
GenusLeontopithecus (1)
SizeHead-and-body length: 26 – 33 cm (2)
Tail length: 32 – 40 cm (2)
Weight400 - 800 g (3)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).

The golden lion tamarin, one of the world's most striking mammals, is so-called because of the beautiful mane of silky golden hair that frames its face (5). The fur is a lustrous golden colour, apart from the tail and forepaws, which may be brown or black (6). The digits are long and delicate with claw-like nails, which are perfectly adapted to forage for small prey items (7). Males are typically larger than females (6), although there is some argument that there is simply seasonal variation in weight (2), but otherwise there are no major differences between the sexes (5).

Found on the Atlantic coast of south-eastern Brazil (2) (7). The golden lion tamarin was formerly found throughout much of the states of Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo, but by 1981 was only recorded from an area of less than 900 km² in the state of Rio de Janeiro. 17 subpopulations currently occur in fragmented and isolated patches of suitable habitat (7) (6).

Inhabits remnant primary tropical forests in the coastal lowlands (8), usually below 300 metres (5). It is also occasionally reported from cultivated areas and secondary re-growth forests (8).

This species is arboreal; active in the day and sleeps in tree holes at night (8). The diet mainly includes soft fruits and insects but these monkeys may also take a range of flowers, nectar, eggs, invertebrates and vertebrates such as reptiles, amphibians and small birds, and have been reported to gnaw tree bark to obtain gum (2) (7). Reproductive groups of two to sixteen (average five or six) golden lion tamarins live in stable territories (2) (6) (8). All members of a group help to rear the offspring of the reproductive females, which are typically born as twins (5). Food sharing is very important in this species and helps to maintain social bonds. Vocalisations can perform the same function; a distinctive 'long call' maintains pair bonds and proclaims the presence of a group within a territory (7).

A staggering ninety percent of the original area of Atlantic coastal forest has been destroyed through logging and clearance for cultivation and development (9). The habitat of the golden lion tamarin has therefore been drastically reduced and fragmented into isolated patches. A former threat to the species in the wild came from the collection of live individuals for private collections and zoos (6), but this practice became illegal in the 1970s, and subsequently decreased (5). Occasionally, specimens will still turn up in a local market (5), but the pet trade now has relatively little impact on numbers (2). Further more, captive breeding in zoos and subsequent re-introductions have literally helped save this species from extinction, so its former collection for zoos has also had a very positive impact (2).

Fortunately, the golden lion tamarin has been the subject of a large-scale, determined conservation effort. A captive breeding programme aims to maintain a zoo population of 500 individuals, and since 1984, captive-bred individuals have been re-introduced to the wild (6) (10). Furthermore, released individuals have successfully reared young in the wild (6). A huge conservation education programme in Brazil has raised the profile of the golden lion tamarin, and the species is now widely regarded with pride as a national symbol of conservation (10). In 1980, the wild population had reached an all time low of less than 100 individuals (11), but by 2000 this had increased to 1000, 424 of which were re-introduced from captive stock (12). Despite these efforts, the species still requires protection and continued conservation efforts if it is to evade extinction. (5).

For further information on the golden lion tamarin see:

Authenticated (16/01/2006) by Matt Richardson, independent primatologist and writer.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2013)