Newborn Critically Endangered Tamarin Baby Has Some Serious Hair

There are only about 2,000 cotton-top tamarin adults left in the wild.

cotton-top tamarin baby and parent

Chester Zoo

A newborn tiny monkey sporting an impressive crown of white hair was spotted clinging to its mother one morning at a zoo in the United Kingdom.

The critically endangered cotton-top tamarin was born to first-time parents Treat and Leo at the Chester Zoo. This species is one of the world’s most endangered primates. 

The infant measures just 10 centimeters (4 inches) from head to tail and weighs only 40 grams (1.4 ounces).

“We strongly suspected that the mother, Treat, was pregnant from our regular monitoring of her weight and seeing her belly swell, but it was a fantastic surprise nonetheless to see a tiny little ball of fluff clinging onto her back one morning,” Siobhan Ward, primate keeper at the zoo, said in a statement.

Because the baby is so small, it’s a little early to determine its gender.

The baby will be carried around by both parents for around the next six months, Ward said, "but it’s actually dad who’s been doing most of the carrying so far, passing it to mum for feeds while he stays protectively close by. Both Treat and Leo have taken to parenthood brilliantly.”

The Plight of Cotton-Top Tamarins

Cotton-top or cotton-headed tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) are native to a small area in northwest Colombia. They live in both humid and dry tropical forests.

Researchers now estimate that only 5% of the tamarin’s original habitat remains due to deforestation. The monkeys also face threats from the illegal wildlife pet trade.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as many as 30,000 cotton-top tamarins were exported to the United States for biomedical research. Now, there are believed to be only about 2,000 adults left in the wild. The species was classified as critically endangered in 2008 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Their population is expected to drop as much as 80% over three generations or 18 years (2018-2036) due to forest loss and capture for sale as pets, according to the IUCN.

Conservationists at the Chester Zoo are part of an international attempt to save the species from extinction.

“The cotton-top tamarin is an exquisite animal but sadly it’s one of the most endangered primate species on the planet,” said Nick Davis, deputy curator of mammals at the zoo, in a statement.

“It’s a highly threatened species because its wild habitat has been destroyed by commercial logging for the agriculture, paper, and timber industries, and these miniature monkeys are also regularly found in the illegal wildlife trade. It wasn’t that long ago that these miniature primates were seen as quite a common species, so their dramatic demise over the last few years shows just how a species thought to be safe can change so rapidly.”

About the Cotton-Top Tamarin

cotton-top tamarin with parent

Chester Zoo

The monkey is named for its distinctive crown of white hair. Their backs and tails have long brownish-black fur and their chest, belly, and legs are white.

“Cotton-top tamarins have an iconic look with their voluminous plume of white fur on the tops of their head,” says Davis. “This crest of hair raises up when they get excited, or feel that they need to warn off danger, making them look bigger and more intimidating. It’s these distinctive looks that tend to draw poachers to them.”

In the wild, they live in multigenerational groups. Most of their diet is made up of fruit and insects. They will work together to defend the group against predators, such as snakes, big cats, and birds of prey.

Cotton-top tamarins have at least 38 different calls they use to communicate, including to defend their territory and tell other members they’ve found food.

Zookeepers say Treat and Leo have settled into the routine of being a family.

“In order to help save the species we only recently started caring for them at the zoo again and so this is the first cotton-top tamarin to be born at Chester Zoo in 22 years and we’re completely overjoyed," says Ward.

“It’s incredibly special to be able to see the little one so soon after its birth and after opening its eyes for the first time to take in the world.”

View Article Sources
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  2. "Cotton-top Tamarins." Proyecto Tití.

  3. "Cotton-top Tamarin, Saguinus oedipus." New England Primate Conservancy.

  4. "Cotton-headed Tamarin." IUCN Red List.

  5. "Cotton-top Tamarin." National Geographic.