This tiny golden monkey has a huge conservation success story

July 20, 2015, 11:34 a.m.
A female golden lion tamarin with baby
Photo: Eric Gevaert/Shutterstock

The golden lion tamarin is a diminutive monkey, with a body only around 10 inches long and weighing in at barely over 1.3 pounds. However, it is a real stand-out in Brazil's rain forests thanks to its gorgeous mane of golden hair.

These beautiful creatures were nearly lost to extinction due primarily to deforestation. Only around 2 percent to 5 percent of its original habitat still survives, and even that is severely fragmented. Because of this, the population of golden tamarins plummeted, reaching a low of just over 200 or so individuals left in the wild around 1980. It was then that a significant conservation effort began.

Both the Brazilian government and international conservationists took a multifaceted approach to saving the species, including preserving the remaining rainforest habitat, creating corridors of new trees so tamarins could get between the different fragments of forest, translocating tamarins to promote genetic diversity, and also building up a captive breeding program among 140 zoos which includes releasing tamarins back into the wild.

Over the last several decades, the number of golden lion tamarins in the wild has grown to over 1,000 individuals and the IUCN has changed the listing of the species from critically endangered to endangered.

While not out of the woods yet, so to speak, the golden lion tamarin has without a doubt benefited from the significant efforts put into their conservation. Threats including deforestation, predation from raptors, snakes and cats, as well as risks associated with fragmented habitat still exist. However, continued preservation and reforestation of rainforest benefits not only these beautiful primates but also all the species that share the forest with them.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

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