Golden lion tamarins are small monkeys endemic to the Atlantic forest of Brazil. Their range, which has shrunk vastly, lies east of Rio de Janeiro state. At the end of the 1960s, their numbers plummeted due to intensive logging and urban expansion – at the time they were estimated at less than 200.
Concerned by this situation, the Rio de Janeiro Primatology Centre decided to take measures to save the species and increase captive breeding, while the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama created the Poço das Antas biological reserve to protect the last intact biotopes. A collaboration with zoos abroad was soon put in place to ensure sufficient genetic diversity within the captive population, and before long an international conservation programme for the species saw the light of day.
In 1984 the first reintroductions were made into the Poço das Antas reserve. The Zoo de La Palmyre took part in this in 1992 when it sent a family of 3 lion tamarins born within its confines to the Brazilian reserve.
Up until 2000, about 150 golden lion tamarins were reintroduced into the reserve and into fragments of neighbouring private forest. At the same time family groups from small portions of isolated forest were translocated to Fazenda União, which became a Federal Biological Reserve in 1998.
Today the number of reintroduced tamarins and their descendants totals around 750, or 50% of the total wild population. Thanks to the success of these measures, the number of golden lion tamarins has risen from just a few hundred to more than 1,600, leading to the 2003 shift of the species from the critically endangered to the endangered category on the IUCN’s Red List.
The extreme fragmentation and limited size of the Atlantic forest mean reintroductions are no longer possible. Hence, reforestation and the creation of corridors, as well as translocations (allowing the management of genetics and demographics) are now the best chances for the long-term survival of the species.
The Lion Tamarin of Brazil Fund aims to collect funds from zoos housing tamarin lions in order to support in situ conservation of the 4 species belonging to the Leontopithecus genus: the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), the black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus), the golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas) and the black-faced lion tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara). To this end, it finances behavioural and ecological studies, censuses, translocations, environmental education campaigns, reforestation measures and even the purchase of private land with the aim of securing and sustaining the tamarin lion habitat.
Photo credit: © LTBF, F. Perroux.