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Saving Species, One at a Time #1 Golden Lion Tamarin

Picture by Eric Gevaert / Shutterstock


The golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) is a primate species living exclusively in the Atlantic coast of south-eastern Brazil.

As adults, these small monkeys weigh between 480 and 680 grams and measure betwen 15 - 25 centimeters, with a tail of about 32 to 40 centimeters. GLT are arboreal primates and their diet consists mainly on soft fruits and insects. 78% of the times, females give birth to twins, and every member of the group helps in the rearing of the offspring. The group is composed by two to eight family members.

Leontopithecus rosalia. Picture by Elelur ©


Deforestation is the primary threat to golden lion tamarins. The drastic reduction and fragmentation of the Atlantic Forest has led to a 90% reduction of the GLT's original habitat. Population growth increased the need for natural resources, cultivation, urbanization and industrial development. Deforestation, agricultural expansion and urbanization have confined GLT population to fragments of secondary forests, most of which are less than a thousand hectares. This geographic isolation results in genetic isolation, making these small populations more vulnerable to extinction.

CONSERVATION EFFORTS The first efforts for the conservation of the golden lion tamarin started in the early 1970's. Back then, there was only and estimate of 200 individuals left in the wild. A large number of professionals and institutions met to discuss and implement guidelines for captive husbandry, research and conservation activities, veterinary care and hand-rearing protocols.

This interinstitutional cooperation resulted in the creation of a studbook and a data bank to record the evolution of the population in human care. This was the turning point for the GLT. The Golden Lion Conservation Program was created. The multi institutional cooperation between the Smithsonian Institute / Washington National Zoo, the Brazilian Institute for Forest Development (Ibama), and the State Foundation for Environmental Engineering (currently INEA), and the Center of Primatology of Rio de Janeiro (CPRJ) resulted in a joint effort to preserve, protect and study the GLT. Since 1992, this work is led by the Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD) and counts on a wide network of partners. Save the Golden Lion Tamarin is a USA based association created in 2005 that provides technical and financial support to AMLD.

According to the AZA, in 1981, the golden lion tamarin was one of the first species to be a part of the Species Survival Plan. Coordinated conservation breeding programmes are operated worldwide by WAZA and at the regional level by ARAZPA, AZA, EAZA and JAZA.

This species is listed on Appendix I of CITES and was downgraded from critically endangered to Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2003. Zoos all over the world are supporting the restoration of the GLTs habitat and releasing tamarins back into the wild. The Golden Lion Tamarin is a perfect example of how zoos and other institutions can join forces to save animals from extinction. Currently, there are 150 zoos cooperating in the GLT breeding program. For a full list of these partners visit: Sources:

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