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There are four species of lion tamarins. They are all endemic to the Atlantic forest in eastern and southeastern Brazil, and all are endangered.

  • Golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia) more
  • Golden-headed lion tamarins, shown at left (Leontopithecus chrysomelas) more
  • Black lion tamarins, also known at golden-rumped lion tamarins (Leontopithecus chrysopygus)
  • Black-faced lion tamarins (Leontopithecus caissara)

Lion tamarins are among 35 species of small monkeys in the family Callithrichidae, which includes marmosets and other tamarins. Pygmy marmosets, with an adult weight up to seven ounces, are the world's smallest monkey. All of the species in Callithrichidae live in family groups, have tails that are not prehensile, live in Central and South American tropical forests, and eat mainly insects, fruits, nectar, and tree sap.

The mane-like tufts of hair surrounding lion tamarins' faces give them their name. The body length of lion tamarins is about 200 to 336 millimeters, plus a longer tail. They weigh up to 800 grams. They are diurnal (active during the day) and sleep in tree holes at night. They are quite agile leaping from branch to branch and running quadrupedally (on all fours). Family groups have a home range as small as 0.17 square mile to 0.8 square mile, some of which is defended from other groups. Lion tamarins live in an area of Brazil with the densest human population. All are critically endangered.

Population Decline

Deforestation, hunting, and commerce have caused their populations to decline drastically over the last 50 years. Current population estimates are about 1,200 for the golden lion tamarin (GLT), 6,000 to 15,500 for the golden-headed lion tamarin (GHLT), 1,000 for the black lion tamarin (BLT), and as few as 400 for the black-faced lion tamarin (BFLT).

Populations of the GLT and BLT are highly fragmented with the majority of animals in protected areas (Poço das Antas Biological Reserve in the state of Rio de Janeiro and Morro do Diabo State Park in the state of São Paulo, respectively).

Less fragmented is the population of GHLTs, located in and around the Una Biological Reserve (state of Bahia). The distribution and status of the BFLT are less well known as they were only discovered in 1990; the majority exist in the protected Superagüi National Park, Parana.

Conservation Programs

All four species are currently the subject of intensive conservation programs that, depending on the species, include

  • Scientific global management of captive populations (GLT, GHLT, BLT)
  • Studies on the ecology and behavior of wild populations (all species)
  • Translocation of threatened wild groups (GLT, BLT)
  • Habitat restoration (GLT)
  • Local conservation education programs (all species)
  • Reintroduction of captive-born individuals to natural forest (GLT)

The International Committee for the Conservation and Management of Lion Tamarins (ICCM) advises the Brazilian government (IBAMA) on the research and conservation activities for these species.

IPE (Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas) is the primary Brazilian conservation organization working with black lion tamarins and black-faced lion tamarins.

Conservation and research efforts for golden-headed lion tamarins are spearheaded by Dr. James Dietz at the University of Maryland and by staff and researchers at the Antwerp Zoo.