I love monkeys. What can I say? I think it could be a genetic thing because everyone in my family seems to have a fondness for these creatures. So it should be no surprise that I was absolutely delighted to go on Nat Hab’s Golden Lion Tamarin Extension before heading into the remote wilds of Brazil’s Pantanal.
The golden lion tamarin monkey can be found only in the Atlantic rain forest in the Brazilian state of Rio. In order to see these wild primates in their natural habitat, my group left the city of Rio de Janeiro early in the morning and drove about two hours along scenic highways.
We stopped on a country road and met our local guide, Junior, who carried a radio and large antenna. We followed Junior through a small field before entering a wooded area and emerging into another meadow a few minutes later. Upon our arrival, wild tamarins immediately appeared in the trees at the edge of the meadow. Small radio monitors around the females’ necks had allowed Junior to locate them with his antenna. The monkeys were the most beautiful bright orange color, with wizard’s faces and long tails. They didn’t seem to be afraid of us at all and chattered constantly among themselves as they leapt from branch to branch.
Golden lion tamarins are very small primates that get their name from their beautiful bright orange coats and the large manes of hair around their wizened black faces. They are about the size of a house cat and dwell high in the trees where they are safe from predators. Once near extinction, they are now making a comeback, thanks to lots of help from their human friends.
In the 1970s, the golden lion tamarin population was reduced to a mere 500 individuals. Over the years, their natural habitat has been destroyed by deforestation from cattle ranching, development of highways, logging and urban expansion. All these things blocked the tamarins from moving freely through the Atlantic rain forest and breeding with other groups. In order to move about their habitat, they need greenways of forests. Without this movement, the golden lion tamarins had become isolated. This caused inbreeding and diminished genetic variability within the species.
In 1983, the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program was created to rescue, protect and rebuild the population of golden lion tamarins. Through a combination of encouraging local farmers to plant trees to reconnect forests with greenways for the tamarins to move through and introducing tamarins from the zoos around the world, these dedicated conservationists have managed to rebuild the wild population of tamarin monkeys. This was most interesting to me because I have always had an aversion to zoos and the captivity of wild animals. It was fascinating to learn that, without the introduction of those formerly captive animals, the golden lion tamarin monkey would have likely become extinct within my lifetime.
Today, many golden lion tamarins still can’t move freely about through the trees. This habitat loss has exposed the monkeys to the danger of being attacked by predators, and inbreeding continues to deplete their already limited gene pool. There is still much work to be done. What the monkeys really need is for the highway construction companies and government to include greenway bridges over highways to allow the tamarins free movement throughout the Atlantic forest. As a nongovernmental organization, the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program receives no funds from the federal government of Brazil. It relies completely on private funding, donations and ecotourism.
So, what can you do to help these amazing creatures continue to fight their battle against extinction? My first suggestion is the most fun way—join Natural Habitat Adventures’ Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal trip and add the Golden Lion Tamarin Extension to view these exquisite creatures up close and meet the biologists dedicated to their conservation. Nat Hab’s visits directly support the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program, which depends on conservation travelers to help raise funds for the monkeys.
If a Brazil nature adventure is not in your future, consider a donation. Visit savetheliontamarin.org/how-to-help to see the many creative ways available to help fund this incredible organization’s hard work and dedication to the wonderful golden lion tamarins.
This guest post was written by Natural Habitat Adventures Office Manager Mandy Scott. All photos © Mandy Scott.