The golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) is one of many species of monkeys native to the tropical forests of South and Central America. Monkeys native to the Americas are referred to as New World monkeys, whereas monkeys in Africa and Asia are called Old World monkeys. New World monkeys are the only native primates in the Americas, along with humans who are believed to have migrated from Asia tens of thousands of years ago. 

Golden lion tamarins once inhabited much of the eastern rainforests of Brazil, but hundreds of years of agricultural development, logging, and fragmentation of habitat led to alarming declines in their population. No more than five percent of their original habitat is now available to them. Through conservation and reintroduction programs, the golden lion tamarin now inhabits a small part of Brazil’s coast near Rio de Janeiro called Mata Atlântica. It is still considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and partners in conservation.

The monkeys are arboreal, living much of their lives in the tree canopies high above the forest floor. They are small with long tails (adults are about 20 centimeters [10 inches] tall with tails of about 33 centimeters [13 inches] long). They have an omnivorous diet that includes insects, small fruits, and flowers and use their elongated hands and fingers to extract their meals from crevices in trees and plants, including a specialized type of plant found in rainforest tree canopies called epiphytes.

  1. Scientific research tells us that monkeys in the Americas may have come here millions of years ago from Africa. How might these early primates have traveled from Africa to the Americas?

  2. What has caused tamarin populations in South America to decline?

    • Answer

      Habitat loss from deforestation has taken away important habitat from many species of tamarin, including the golden lion tamarin.

  3. What role do reintroduction programs play in ensuring that species of wildlife do not go extinct?

    • Answer

      For much of the endangered animals around the world, having specimens in captivity is crucial for scientists to be able to study and breed the animals and make sure that they do not go completely extinct. When possible, scientists along with partners in conservation can attempt reintroduction programs to repopulate these animals into their native or another suitable habitat. Golden lion tamarins have been reintroduced into parts of Brazil’s lowland coastal forests.  

arboreal
Adjective

having to do with trees.

elongated
Adjective

lengthened or extended.

Noun

organism threatened with extinction.

epiphyte
Noun

plant that grows on the branches or trunk of another plant or object.

fragmentation
Noun

breaking up of large habitats into smaller, isolated chunks. Fragmentation is one of the main forms of habitat destruction.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Noun

environmental organization concerned with preserving natural ecosystems and habitats.

logging
Noun

industry engaged in cutting down trees and moving the wood to sawmills.

New World
Noun

the Western Hemisphere, made up of the Americas and their islands.

Old World
Noun

the Eastern Hemisphere, especially Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Noun

organism that eats a variety of organisms, including plants, animals, and fungi.

primate
Noun

type of mammal, including humans, apes, and monkeys.

reintroduction
Noun

intentional return of an endemic species to its native range after it has been removed or in severe decline.