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

Cotton-top tamarin clinging to tree

Photo: William T Hornaday

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.

Tropical rainforests, secondary forests and open woodlands; up to altitudes of four hundred metres.
Northwest Colombia
What they eat
Insects, fruit, sap, small birds, lizards, and eggs.
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

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 25 – The Caquetá Tití Monkey

Caquetá Tití Monkey

Photograph by Thomas Defler | National Geographic.

A type of titi monkey was first spotted in 1960s, but political unrest pervaded in the southern Caquetá Province hampering any further attempts at exploration. It was not until 2008, following an expedition led by Thomas Defler [1], that the existence of the new species was confirmed – a bearded monkey, now known as the Caquetá titi – in the remote Amazon. It was promptly described.

These mysterious monkeys purr like domestic cats, and, oddly enough, are more or less the same size. They are stocky and strong, with powerful hind legs which allow them to leap incredible distances through the trees. Their coats are brown on top and reddish-chestnut underneath. They also sport a matching reddish-chestnut beard with a contrasting long, thick, pale-coloured tail. In my opinion – and, it is only my opinion – facially, they are not the prettiest of primates; but when it comes to friendship, love and care, they are phenomenally sweet.

As is typical of the titi monkeys, they mate for life. They have been observed atop of branches holding hands with their tails romantically intertwined. And, of course, they lovingly groom each other. They produce one baby a year, and although the mothers are responsible for nursing, the fathers tend to do all the other work. Clearly, a few lessons to be learned here!  Once the babies have been weaned, they will continue to stay within the family group until their second year, when they will go their own way in search of a mate. No member of the group is ever forced out and in times of danger they all stick together.

[1]Thomas Defler is a primatologist at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá

Dense tropical  low forests with broadleaved trees and shrubs,  surrounded by low swampy pastureland.
Southern Caquetá,  Colombia  (close to the borders of Peru and Ecuador).
What they eat
Principally;  fruit,  flowers,  leaves,  insects and small vertebrates
Agriculture is fragmenting their habitat at an alarming rate and confining them to certain areas by the use of barbed wire and grazed savannah.  This makes it very difficult,  and dangerous,   for them to move to new feeding grounds.  Often the land is used for cattle farming and drug cultivation.  What is left is degraded,  and the Caquetá titi  are left there to survive in small isolated groups.  This is an ongoing situation.  They are also,  sadly,  hunted for food.
Status:  Critically Endangered
The region is known for its guerilla activity,  making it sometimes difficult for conservationists to enter and observe,  so numbers have been difficult to ascertain.  It is believed that less than 250 Caquetá titi  still exist and that the species is now on the verge of extinction.   It is currently classified as Critically Endangered on the  IUCN Red List  because of  “a suspected population decline”.

“If civilization is to survive, it must live on the interest, not the capital, of nature.”
Ronald Wright

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