Fourteen Fun Facts About Golden Lion Tamarins

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Yesterday I visited the Smithsonian's National Zoo and took a quick look through the Small Mammal House. I noticed the zoo had quite a few golden lion tamarins (GLTs), small orange-haired monkeys that captured the attention of most of the visitors. But what are they, and why does the zoo have so many?

1 ) GLTs are one of four species of lion tamarins, all native to Brazil and all endangered.

2 ) The native range of GLTs is heavily populated, and habitat fragmentation has been the driver behind their endangered status.

3 ) There are only about 1,500 GLTs left in the wild. Another 500 live in zoos around the world.

4 ) Zoos, including the National Zoo, have been breeding GLTs in captivity since the 1960s. More than 400 animals have been reintroduced into Brazil since 1984.

5 ) In the wild, GLTs live in groups of two to nine animals, usually consisting of a male and female of breeding age and several younger animals. Zoos tend to keep them in family groups.

6 ) GLTs are usually monogamous.

7 ) Females usually give birth to twins. All the members of her group will help her to take care of the babies, but the dad helps the most.

8 ) GLTs are omnivores and will eat fruit, insects and small lizards.

9 ) They will share their meals with others in the group, either offering bits to other GLTs (active sharing) or letting others steal from them (passive sharing).

10 ) About 40 percent of GLTs die before their first birthday.

11 ) GLTs that survive past age one will live about eight years, on average. The longest-lived GLT made it to age 31.

12 ) The main predators of GLTs are cats, raptors and large snakes.

13 ) When a GLT in the wild spots a predator, it will give an alarm call. That call seems to be "hard wired" into GLTs; captive-bred animals will also alarm call if they spot a bird overhead.

14 ) If you can't get to the zoo, you can watch GLTs on the Golden Lion Tamarin Cam.

About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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