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Episode 115: A Treasure, the Golden Lion Tamarin

The Golden Lion Tamarin is a small primate from Brazil that nearly went extinct. They are one of conservations great success stories, as they were brought back from the brink. As the rainforests of South America continue to be a critical hotspot for conservation, we turn our attention there to talk about the Golden Lion Tamarins and their struggles to survive.

Golden Lion Tamarin History

We have discussed primate evolution now for a few podcasts. Still, with each species we discover new and exciting information. The Golden Lion Tamarin (Leontopicthecus rosalia) is one of four lion tamarins. The other three are: Golden-Headed Lion tamarin, Black Lion Tamarin and Superguai Lion Tamarin. These belong to the wider Family Callitrichidae, which is over 60 species of lion tamarins, tamarins, and marmosets.

The Golden Lion Tamarins are New World Monkeys. The current thought is an ancient primate ancestor from Africa migrated to South America via the Atlantic Ocean on rafts made of vegetation. It is also postulated that there were many islands or larger land masses that served as refuges as these ancient ancestors made their way to South America. Members of the Family Callitrichidae also are thought to be so small as a result of “dwarfism.” This is when animals evolved to be smaller on islands, or small pockets of land surrounded by water. This evolutionary strategy is seen in mainly island animals, as the smaller ones survived better as they needed less resources. The primates in South America like the tamarin and marmoset likely evolved when South America was broken up into smaller island masses due to high sea levels. Thus, these monkeys evolved over many millions of years to be small.

Golden Lion Tamarin Physiology

Tamarins and marmosets are the smallest primates on the planet. However, they exhibit many of the same traits as many other monkey species. However, unlike most primates, instead of nails on their fingers and toes, there was an evolution revearsal and Golden Lion Tamarins and the others from their Family have claws. These micromanipulators not only help them forage for food, it also allows them to climb and hang from the trees they live in. Additionally, these monkeys do not have prehensile tails, unlike their close cousins in South America.

The Golden Lion Tamarin is an omnivore and eats a variety of fruit, seeds, insects, almost any other type of animal that is smaller than them. However, the Golden Lion Tamarin is often food for birds of prey, snakes and wild cats.

Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation

The great highlight of the Golden Lion Tamarin is how they were saved from extinction. In the 1970s it was estimated there was maybe 200 Golden Lion Tamarins left in the world. Through the Smithsonian Institute and other Zoological organizations from around the world, concerted efforts to save them have largely been successful. The Golden Lion Tamarin in 2003 was downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered. There are estimates today of nearly 3000 Golden Lion Tamarins now in the wild, with at least another 500 being held under human care. Release efforts have largely been successful with support from the Brazilian government.

However, as deforestation continues at a rapid rate for agriculture expansion, many of the Golden Lion Tamarin’s cousins and multiple other species are being pushed to the brink.

Organizations to Support

Earth Alliance

Save the Golden Lion Tamarin


September 10, 2019
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