CITES: Appendix I
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IUCN Red List: L. rosalia: EN
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Key: EN = Endangered
(Click on species name to see IUCN Red List entry, including detailed status assessment information.)
Photo: Lisa G. Rapaport
While great strides have been made to pull the golden lion
tamarin away from the brink of extinction, they are still very much at
risk. The extremely limited range in which the golden lion tamarins are found
is within the most devastated and highly threatened ecosystem on Earth.
Only about 7% of the former Atlantic Forest remains, and where it
does exist, it is highly fragmented and subject to fuelwood harvesting,
illegal logging, plant and animal poaching, mining, urbanization and
infrastructure development, and the introduction of alien species
(Galindo-Leal & de Gusmão Câmara 2003).
CONSERVATION THREATS & POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS
Threat: Human-Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation
Habitat loss and degradation is the primary historical and current
threat to golden lion tamarins. Lumber extraction, agriculture, cattle
ranching, and charcoal production have annihilated the Atlantic Forest
and forced the remaining forest species into tiny pockets of forest,
highly fragmented and isolated from one another (Kierulff et al. 2003).
The pattern of unsustainable forest destruction has a long history
starting with European colonization in 1500. Widespread exploitation of
brazilwood as a ship-building material coupled with deliberate clearing
of forest for settlement and agriculture wiped out extensive areas of
forest (de Gusmão Câmara 2003). Cattle-raising was another
colonial process that resulted in habitat destruction as herds were
driven through forests and pastureland was cleared. Throughout the
18th and 19th centuries, massive sugarcane
plantations, mining activities, and coffee cultivation further
eliminated the forests of the region as demand for such products in the
global economy fueled the destruction (de Gusmão Câmara
2003). But even with the massive amount of damage inflicted on the
forests during the previous centuries, nothing compares to the
devastation seen in the 20th century.
Growing human populations and industrialization characterized the first
half of the century. Railroads built across the country opened up new
areas for cultivation, disorganized exploitation of timber with little
regard to regeneration, and the expansion of urban areas.
Infrastructure was necessary to support a rapidly growing urban
population and the timber industry eliminated nearly all of the
Brazilian Atlantic Forest (de Gusmão Câmara 2003). An
international oil crisis in the 1970s put further pressure on the
remaining coastal forests as alcohol distilled from sugarcane was used
as an alternate fuel source. Plantations of sugarcane, nonnative pine,
and eucalyptus took over most of the landscape during this time period
as the reliance on alcohol for fuel and the paper and pulp industry
exploded (de Gusmão Câmara 2003). Forest destruction
continues in the region as the ever-growing human population looks to
more areas for settlement and more supplies from the shrinking reserve.
Golden lion tamarins are found in the most densely populated area of
Brazil and the human population continues to expand. All of the
activities throughout the last 500 years have adversely affected
numerous forest-dependent species, including the golden lion tamarin as
their habitats have been destroyed and they are forced into increasingly
smaller patches of land in their ranges.
Despite centuries of uncontrolled exploitation and little tangible
protection even with the establishment of protected areas starting in the
1980s, the Atlantic Forest continues to be destroyed. Conviction to
protect the remaining remnants of the region is growing among Brazilians
and needs to continue if protection is to succeed in the face of strong
economic interests, including agriculture and timber industries (de
Gusmão Câmara 2003). The Brazilian constitution has newly
added provisions specifically protecting the Atlantic Forest through
enactment of laws. Legislation strictly protecting the biome through
prohibition of cutting down and exploiting any vegetation in any
ecosystem in the region was proposed in 1990 but is still being
discussed in Congress and was no doubt slowed by politically influential
developers (de Gusmão Câmara 2003). Given the
constitutional requirement to protect the Atlantic Forest, the Brazilian
Congress must pass enabling legislation to stop rampant forest
destruction as soon as possible. There exist governmental agencies and
organizations that are charged with the protection and conservation of
forests and other ecosystems, including the Ministry of the Environment
and the National Council on the Environment, that need the legal support
to continue to effectively arrest habitat destruction (de Gusmão
Câmara 2003). Economic interests in developing the Atlantic
Forest region continually defeat environmental interests and this
pattern must be stopped by international pressure and lobbying as well
as decreased incentives for Brazilian agribusinesses to destroy forests
for plantations or pastures.
Apart from the legislative changes that must occur to protect the
remaining forests, focus on reestablishing corridors between fragmented
pockets of forest as well as broad-scale reforestation efforts must be
undertaken (Kleiman & Rylands 2002). Establishing habitat corridors
between isolated subpopulations is an important focus in order to
increase genetic variability in the total population and to allow for
natural dispersal and group formation. Reforestation can be
accomplished either through natural revegetation of a once-cleared area
or through aggressive restoration planting of saplings. Propagating and
raising native saplings can be a long and expensive process.
Furthermore, once saplings are mature enough to survive outside of a
greenhouse, planting needs to be done in such a pattern that mimics the
structure of a natural forest rather than in rows like a plantation
Finally, efforts to increase the golden lion tamarin population through
translocation and captive breeding and reintroduction should continue in
order to deter the effects of human-induced habitat destruction and
degradation. Reintroduction is broadly defined as the return of animals
that have spent any portion of their life in captivity back to the wild
and is used in cases of extreme endangerment to supplement populations
that are critically small or to reestablish wild groups of animals that
are extinct in their former ranges (Beck et al. 1991; Kierulff et al.
2002b). In 1984, the first captive-born golden lion tamarins were
returned to the wild (Beck et al. 1991). The captive population of
golden lion tamarins has been maintained since the late 1970s and
careful selection of breeding partners has made the captive population
self-sustaining (Ballou et al. 2002). The reintroduction of these
animals involved extensive training in captivity to teach them how to
locomote through the forest, find and collect insects from small
crevices, find and collect water from bromeliads and other sources, and
introducing them to predators to gauge appropriateness of response (Beck
et al. 1991). After having been trained in captivity at the National
Zoological Park, tamarins were transported to Brazil, where they spent
six months in quarantine to ensure they were not carrying any diseases
or parasites that might infect wild tamarins with which they might come
into contact (Beck et al. 1991). After the quarantine period, the
captive-born golden lion tamarins were released from their cages into
Poço das Antas Biological Reserve and other private lands surrounding
the reserve and were supplemented with food items and sleeping sites as
well as veterinary support to ensure their survival. Over time as
reintroduced groups learned about natural foods and the resources within
their territories, they become less reliant on food provisioning and
eventually were no longer provisioned (Beck et al. 1991; Kierulff et al.
2002b). To date, about 40% of the total wild population of golden
lion tamarins represents captive breeding and reintroduction efforts.
Starting with 18 captive-born individuals, the population has grown as
those founders produced wild-born offspring (Kierulff et al. 2002b).
A program of translocation of golden lion tamarins has been another
approach to protect threatened subpopulations by moving them from a
degraded area to a protected reserve or private land. Translocation
involves moving wild animals from one area of their natural range to
another area of suitable habitat (Kierulff et al. 2002b). This is often
done an emergency basis as groups come under threat from imminent
habitat destruction or other danger. Being able to move wild
populations into protected areas may prevent those groups from being
lost completely (Kierulff et al. 2002b). Translocated individuals have
a high rate of survival and most causes of death are related to injuries
obtained while fighting with another group or predation (Kierulff et al.
Threat: Invasive Alien Species
Rapidly expanding international trade and travel coupled with ongoing
changes in land use and climate in Brazil has had far reaching effects
on the diversity of native flora and fauna as nonnative species are
introduced and are either purposely cultivated or thrive and outcompete
other species. Problematic new species include pine species, sand
olive, patient lucy, guava tree, white ginger, and eucalyptus (Reaser et
al. 2003). When these are planted they usurp native species and often
spread so successfully that they create vast areas of monocultures.
Golden lion tamarins have not evolved with these species and cannot
always use the fruits they bear and may be restricted from moving within
vast tracts of these plants (Coimbra-Filho & Mittermeier 1977).
Once nonnative invasive species have taken root, it is often very
difficult to remove them or control their spread to other areas (Reaser
et al. 2003). Well-coordinated international policies are necessary to
limit the transport and spread of some of these species and need to
include border patrol agencies, intergovernmental organizations,
agriculture and forestry industries, and nongovernmental organizations.
Furthermore, for those species that are purposely imported and planted
for economic purposes, it is necessary to remove the fiscal incentives
to plant these species or encourage systems of multi-cropping and shade growing to provide alternate income earning opportunities (Coimbra-Filho
& Mittermeier 1977).
Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)
Golden lion tamarins have been a popular pet and kept in captivity since
the sixteenth century (Ballou et al. 2002). Their export continued for
the pet trade, zoo exhibits, and biomedical research throughout the
twentieth century. From 1960 to 1965, it was estimated that they were
exported at a rate of 200 to 300 animals per month, a serious depletion
of the already compromised population (Coimbra-Filho & Mittermeier
1977). Though it has been illegal to transport or sell golden lion
tamarins in Brazil since 1968 and the international trade has been
restricted since 1975, invariably some monkeys are still trapped and
sold into the pet trade because of continuous demand (Ballou et al.
2002). Not only have they been trapped and sold as pets, but golden
lion tamarins have been subject to hunting pressure, further decreasing
their numbers in the wild (Kierulff et al. 2003).
Growing in popularity as a flagship species, one that captures the
attention of many people and signifies a conservation effort in an area,
golden lion tamarins have successfully been used in conservation
education programs in Brazil and other countries (Padua et al. 2002).
One of the benefits of using an easily recognized and likeable species
is the ability to raise awareness about conservation efforts and educate
people about individual species and the ecosystems in which they live
(Dietz et al. 1994b). Through education and outreach efforts in areas
surrounding Poço das Antas, educators have been successful in teaching
local communities about the unique primate population in their region.
This has been substantiated by the return of over 20 illegal pet golden
lion tamarins and the decrease of hunting of these monkeys (Padua et al.
2002). Returned and confiscated pets are rehabilitated and often
returned to the wild (Kierulff et al. 2003). Conservation education
efforts should continue to involve community members in monitoring the
animals, teaching them about tamarin ecology and behavior, and
patrolling reserve borders.
Threat: Accidental Mortality
The only data on accidental mortality of golden lion tamarins come from
studies on captive-born, reintroduced animals. Losses due to eating
toxic fruit and head injuries due to falls have been recorded and are
attributed to the naivete of the animals about appropriate food sources and the
inability to move between trees on the thin ends of branches (Beck et
al. 1991). Another source of accidental mortality in reintroduced
golden lion tamarins is death caused by bee stings (Bales pers. comm.).
While there is scant data on the adverse effects of pollution on golden
lion tamarins, throughout their region, water quality and habitat are
degraded due to acid rain caused by
nearby centers of industry with no
pollution or emissions control in effect (Aguiar et al. 2003). One case
of a golden lion tamarin poisoned by insecticides sprayed near a
biological reserve and resulting in death has been reported. Presumably
the animal ingested contaminated insects (Pissinatti et al. 2002). It
is plausible that a situation like this could occur again, especially in
forest fragments near plantations, though there have been no other
Legislation by the Brazilian government and enforcement by officials
could have some effect in controlling the pollutants released by
industrial factories and sites that are the leading causes of acid rain.
Plantation owners should be restricted from spraying insecticides
within a certain distance of forests to decrease the likelihood of
contaminating insects, a food source for golden lion tamarins.
Education programs about the effects of insecticide on native species,
including plants, animals and insects, could also help change patterns
of use among some agriculturalists.
Threats: Changes in Native Species Dynamics
Predators of golden lion tamarins include hawks, owls, boa constrictors,
and small cats. Normally a group only loses one or two individuals per
predation event (Franklin & Dietz 2001). At Poço das Antas,
predators have contributed significantly to the loss of golden lion
tamarins. Entire groups, up to 10 individuals, are being sought after
in their sleeping sites at night and eaten with the only evidence left
behind being a few remains and the radio collar used by researchers to
track the monkeys. In one year alone, five groups were taken by
predators, reducing the population from 350 individuals to 220 in the
reserve (Franklin & Dietz 2001). This represents a serious threat to
the largest wild population of golden lion tamarins as the population is
decreasing, group size is decreasing, infant survival to weaning is
decreasing, and tamarin density within the reserve is decreasing
(Franklin & Dietz 2001; Rylands et al. 2002a). Unfortunately, it is not
clear what kind of animal is responsible for the carnage or if these
predation events represent a change in predator-prey dynamics because of
the loss of habitat (Franklin & Dietz 2001). It may be that because
there is so little habitat remaining and predators are restricted to
unnaturally small ranges that they have changed their foraging patterns
thus adversely affecting the golden lion tamarins.
Parasites and pathogens represent another threat to wild golden lion
tamarins and may change the native species dynamics of a population.
Parasitic infections caused by eating rodents or coming in contact with
cockroaches and some species of beetles may cause sickness or death in
some cases (Pissinatti et al. 2002). Ticks, chiggers, and mites are the
most commonly found ectoparasites among golden lion tamarins but
probably have little to no effect on the overall health of individual
One effort to identify the predators responsible for killing entire
groups included stationing heat/motion cameras at sleeping trees in an
attempt to capture the predator on camera, but no definitive evidence
has been found (Franklin & Dietz 2001). If a predator is identified,
biologists may be able to modify the sleeping sites, which are used
repeatedly by groups of tamarins, in order to "predator-proof" them
according to the type of predator involved. Expanding forest fragments
may be another method of decreasing predation pressure on golden lion
tamarins so predators have larger areas in which to hunt and may
not rely as heavily on the highly endangered animals.
Threat: Intrinsic Factors
Genetic studies on the small population of golden lion tamarins have
revealed high levels of inbreeding and low levels of genetic diversity
despite scientists' best efforts to manage proper breeding in captivity
and through translocation. These patterns occur because golden lion
tamarins mate with relatives they do not recognize as kin or because they
do not reject them as mates (Dietz et al. 2000). This may be compounded
by the fact that in small, isolated fragments, individuals have limited
dispersal opportunities and are unable to enter groups that do not have
their relatives. Both inbreeding
depression and loss of genetic diversity have potentially serious
consequences in small, fragmented populations because they may be
responsible for decreased survivability or poor recruitment (Dietz et al. 2000).
Inbred infants at Poço das Antas have lower survival rates than
those of non-inbred infants and survivability decreases with higher
rates of inbreeding. About 10% of all infants at the reserve are
inbred, but this may be an underestimate because researchers assumed
that all adults at the beginning of the study were unrelated (Dietz et
al. 2000). Currently, this rate of inbreeding is not a threat to the
viability of the population at the reserve but may not be a good
indicator of other levels of inbreeding of wild golden lion tamarins
groups. Because Poço das Antas is the largest reserve with the
highest number of golden lion tamarins in Brazil and inbreeding levels
are at about 10%, it is reasonable to assume that other forest
fragments containing tamarins may be so small that inbreeding occurs at
even higher rates (Dietz et al. 2000).
Genetic management of all golden lion tamarin populations may be
necessary to prevent inbreeding depression from negatively impacting the
survival of the species (Dietz et al. 2000). While the levels at
Poço das Antas are not a hazard to the survivability of the
population, models of areas with less than 50 individuals project that
inbreeding depression may decrease the probability of survival of an
entire population to only 60% (Dietz et al. 2000). Collecting
genetic material, creating pedigrees, and managing the population based
on level of relatedness in forest fragments is one way to assess the
true threat of inbreeding depression and avoid its negative effects.
Translocation of individuals or groups between forest fragments may
enhance genetic diversity as tamarins from geographically distant
forests are unlikely to be related. This is expensive and risky,
though, because researchers need to be careful to avoid serious
aggressive encounters between groups that might jeopardize individual
tamarins (Beck et al. 1991).
Threat: Human Disturbance
Poço das Antas is surrounded by pasture maintained by
cattle-raising landowners and parts of the reserve are subject to
destruction by fires. Fires started by landowners to clear pasture land
spread to nearby forest areas and can be especially destructive if they
reach peat bogs, areas of high acidity and gaseous emissions (Pessamílio
One preventative measure is to plant a buffer of vegetation between
forested areas and ranches which can act as a barrier to spreading
fires. Another important component of keeping fires from spreading and
destroying large areas of the reserve is to train park personnel as fire
monitors and firefighters. The reserve is already equipped with fire
detection infrastructure and equipment including lookout towers, fixed
and portable radio-telephones, and fire-fighting equipment. The
reserve's meteorological station can be helpful in the event of a fire
to determine wind direction and other variables affecting the spread of
a wildland fire (Pessamílio 1994). Being prepared for a fire in the
reserve is crucial, but so is educating surrounding land owners in
proper burning techniques, including how to execute controlled burns and
what time of year burns are least likely to get out of control. Given
that the US Forest Service is already involved in training of reserve
staff in firefighting techniques, perhaps they could lend their
expertise to surrounding ranch owners about fire safety and management
to decrease the risk of fire.
Captive breeding and reintroduction of endangered species resulting in
viable wild populations has been met with limited success (Beck et al.
1994). In general, as a conservation tool, it has been expensive and
rarely met the goal of creating self-sustaining populations except for a
few notable instances: the North American red wolf, the Arabian oryx,
and the golden lion tamarin (Beck et al. 1991; Kierulff et al. 2002b).
The success of the golden lion tamarin reintroduction program can be
attributed to dedicated researchers doing follow-up studies of
behavioral deficiencies and survivability of captive-born reintroduced
tamarins. Armed with the behavioral and mortality data, managers were
able to make adjustments in the pre-release training, including novel
food foraging, structural changes to enclosures to more adequately mimic
forest conditions, and introduction of a variety of predators to measure
fear and alarm responses (Beck et al. 1991; Stoinski & Beck 2004).
Post-release support was also modified based on the results of
behavioral studies and included food supplementation, provision of nest
boxes for sleeping sites, and veterinary care and intervention when
necessary (Beck et al. 1991; Stoinski & Beck 2004). This type of
approach is a good model for other species reintroductions, both
primates and other animals, and perhaps can be useful in saving other
critically endangered species from certain extinction.
LINKS TO MORE ABOUT CONSERVATION
Content last modified: December 1, 2010
Written by Kristina Cawthon Lang. Reviewed by Karen Bales and Lisa G. Rapaport.
Cite this page as:
Cawthon Lang KA. 2010 December 1. Primate Factsheets: Golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) Conservation . <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/golden_lion_tamarin/cons>. Accessed 2016 May 30.