Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 44 – The Cotton-top Tamarin


Cotton-top tamarin clinging to tree

Photo: William T Hornaday

Description
The cotton-top tamarin was declared endangered in 1973;  and in 1974 it became illegal to export them.  Prior to that, these endearing little monkeys were subjected to years of torment.  Exported to the United States by the tens of thousands, they were used for long-term biomedical research.  Notwithstanding that mass depletion of the species, they were also highly sought after, and taken, by zoos and pet traders.

Closely related to humans, the cotton-top tamarin was found to spontaneously develop a highly prevalent idiopathic colitis resembling human ulcerative colitis.  Four out of five animals died or were euthanised after a disease course of two to ten days.  [1]  Having lost most of my own family to cancer, I never fail to see, and always fully appreciate, the need for a wide range of research. However, this use, or rather misuse, of animals was unforgivable. It’s hard to imagine the horror of it all.  All international trade has long since been banned, but now the species faces other risks  –  again created by man.

The cotton-top tamarin is a New World monkey.  As you can imagine, it’s pretty rare. Tamarins are monomorphic, arboreal and diurnal.  They are instantly recognisable by the long white chine from forehead to shoulders.  They have mutated claws on all digits and only two molars on either side of the jaw.  Startlingly, they weigh no more than a pound. They live in groups ranging from one to nineteen, though the more common size would be three to nine.  They are highly intelligent, with their language showing signs of some grammatical structure.

The cotton-top tamarin has a monogamous breeding system.  Gestation lasts about one hundred and forty days, followed by the birth of twins.  Females produce twice a year.

Habitat
Tropical rainforests, secondary forests and open woodlands; up to altitudes of four hundred metres.
Where
Northwest Colombia
What they eat
Insects, fruit, sap, small birds, lizards, and eggs.
Threats
Deforestation:  Most of its habitat, 98% over the last decade, has been lost to farming, expansion of human settlements and fuel.
Status: Critically Endangered
The cotton-top tamarin  (Saguinus oedipus) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Endangered Species  as Critically Endangered.  It is also listed on CITES Appendix I.  Various non-profit making organisations are helping in their own way.  Nature reserves have been set up to help maintain populations.  The species has been legally protected in Colombia since 1969.

“Because the heart beats under a covering of hair, of fur, feathers, or wings, it is, for that reason, to be of no account?”
Jean Paul Richter

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