A Student's Experience with GLT Conservation

Josh Thompson is a zoo education professional at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, completing his Biology M.A. degree with Miami University's Project Dragonfly Global Field Program in December 2018. In 2017, he traveled to Brazil and was part of the Project Dragonfly cohort that learned first-hand about GLT conservation with AMLD staff. Through his graduate school program, he traveled to Baja, Mexico to study whale shark conservation, and Borneo, Malaysia to study primate conservation. Through his experiences, Josh has discovered conservation starts by connecting with people and culture.

The author in Brazil

Bom dia, (Good morning) from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! It’s late May, 2017. Fog and dew rolled in overnight revealing a beautifully cozy winter twilight in the Atlantic Forest lowlands. I’m up early with the chickens, checking for signs of a small golden monkey, not in the Amazon but in the endangered and lesser-known Atlantic coastal rainforest.

I traveled ten hours by plane from Orlando, Florida, with Project Dragonfly of Miami University to learn from the leaders of a small Brazilian organization - Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD; Golden Lion Tamarin Association) - dedicated to the conservation of this species in its Atlantic Forest habitat. Despite working in a zoo for over fifteen years, I admit I knew very little about the tragic but hope-filled story of the Atlantic Forest and its flagship species, the golden lion tamarin. In Brazil I learned that this tiny charismatic monkey was saved from the brink of extinction by AMLD, through partnerships with many zoos around the world, and by empowering local, passionate stewards of the Atlantic Forest. Like me, your introduction to this beautiful golden primate was likely hearing it chirping away at your local zoo.

Our team is staying at a quaint agroforestry farm owned by Ana and her family, less than two hours outside of Rio de Janeiro city. This morning, Ana tells me over my third cup of addictively farm-fresh coffee, grown, roasted and ground on property, that more than 90% of the Atlantic Forest is gone. Surreally, in every patch of forest that remains the hum of motor vehicles echoes more distinctly than wind in the trees. Very little of what I recognize as “wild” remains here. Despite this chilling confluence of nature and machine, Ana is proud of her farm, restoring and protecting hundreds of hectares from further destruction, ensuring the incredible biodiversity of the forest will continue to exist for future generations.

AMLD continues to build a network of farmers like Ana, inspiring a community to become stewards of their forest. Promising to preserve this special place, Ana’s doors are open wide to eco-travelers, ready to explore the rolling vistas recognized as one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. As a family group of ten wild tamarins jump into her fruit trees for a snack before our hike, Ana’s smile told me how personal and fulfilling it is to share this enchanting land with travelers like me. Throughout my ten days of hiking, tracking, networking, learning, journaling and exploring, I understood one of the greatest powers of connection to golden lion tamarin conservation: experiencing the story of the people saving the golden lion tamarin.

The story of the golden lion tamarin exemplifies how local and global actions can be intertwined for conservation success. Maintaining a healthy relationship between my zoo community and local communities helps save species. Luis Paulo Ferraz of AMLD made sure we felt like family with his organization, connecting us to every member of his team, understanding every facet of their conservation challenges, and showing us so much hope and value of our partnerships. The wild population of golden lion tamarins dropped to less than 300 in the 1980’s, has rebounded to more than 3,000 today, thanks to AMLD’s partnerships with Save the Golden Lion Tamarin and zoos.


Photo by the author

On our last day, Dragonfly professors, students, AMLD members, and stakeholders from Brazil’s primate conservation organizations participated in an inspiring workshop. We shared our experiences, ideas and research, and created more visions of the future through diverse lenses. That is my takeaway from my time in the Atlantic Forest. You can’t always learn about conservation from books. Sometimes you need to spend time with the people who live it every day to really understand their voice, which I now talk about at my zoo with my fellow educators.

I tell the golden lion tamarin story frequently. I describe the taste of fresh fruit and coffee on the agroforestry family farm, the frequent absence of forest, the importance of zoos learning about animals and education to help fuel conservation in the field, but mostly about the importance of understanding how we impact our world through our everyday behaviors. Since my days in Brazil, I buy rainforest friendly Brazilian coffee, support Save the Golden Lion organization through, and share this conservation story of the golden lion with my fellow educators and zoo visitors.

Today I share this story with you to emphasize how valuable spending ten days immersed in learning about community conservation is in understanding our place in the world. I didn’t leave the Atlantic Forest without hope, I left the forest feeling empowered to share the successes of partnerships and community voices. I can say with all my heart that I love the golden lion tamarin community because I now know the full conservation story and the people who give voice to the tamarin. We won’t protect what we don’t love, and we won’t love what we don’t know. I encourage you to do the same. Learn all you can.

Click here for more information on Project Dragonfly's Brazil Expedition.


Construction of a Forested Overpass to Begin in November!

BR101 is an interstate toll road that runs the length of Brazil from north to south. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, BR101 traverses an area as strategic for national economic development as it is for biodiversity conservation, between the city of Rio de Janeiro and the petroleum production center of Macaé/Campos. Necessary widening of the highway in this region, the São João River/Golden Lion Tamarin Environmental Protection Area, could become an impassable barrier to wildlife trying to cross to and from the Poçó das Antas Federal Biological Reserve, directly thwarting efforts to save golden lion tamarins from extinction. The future of tamarins depends on being able to cross between the remaining fragments of its fragmented habitat to find unrelated mates.


Federal permits to widen BR101 are contingent on construction of wildlife passages, including the first forested viaduct over any Brazilian federal highway. Following six years of negotiations, construction is scheduled to begin in November 2018. That is the commitment made by Autopista Fluminense/Arteris, the concession holder for widening the stretch of BR101 that runs through the municipalities of Rio Bonito, Silva Jardim, and Casimiro de Abreu in the state of Rio de Janeiro.


In addition to the forested viaduct, other lighter structures will be built to connect the forest canopy in strategic locations on either side of the highway. Sixteen underground passages are already under construction to support the circulation of terrestrial wildlife. In addition, the spans of the bridges over rivers crossing the highway will be adapted to facilitate movement of wildlife.

With these measures it is hoped that BR-101 will be transformed into a model for wildlife protection measures in highway construction in Brazil.  


Upon completion of construction, expected to take a year, use of the forested bridge by golden lion tamarins will be monitored by Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado to ensure genetic exchange among groups on both sides of the highway. We hope that the forested overpass will also be used by other animals, especially predators, thus maintaining the ecological balance in the Biological Reserve. AMLD has begun restoration of more than 100 hectares of forest on both sides of the future forested overpass.


This success story demonstrates the important role played by Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment in implementing the environmental permitting process required for infrastructure construction projects, through its administrative agencies ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation) and IBAMA (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources). It also shows that it’s possible to bridge the gap between conservation and economic development goals in Brazil.



Yellow Fever hits Golden Lion Tamarin population 

6 June 2018



Yellow Fever hits Golden Lion Tamarin population in Rio de Janeiro’s Atlantic Forest

Brazil’s Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD; Golden Lion Tamarin Association), along with the Brazilian Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Environment reported that the first confirmed death of a Golden Lion Tamarin (GLT) to yellow fever occurred on 17 May 2018.  Until this report we did not know if GLTs were susceptible to the disease.  Our main concern is that this disease has the potential to reduce significantly an already small and fragmented GLT population. The continued existence of an assurance population of GLTs in captivity is an essential safeguard for species survival.

Yellow fever was unknown in our area during the four decades of our work. The current outbreak of yellow fever began in Minas Gerais state in December 2016, and quickly spread to Rio de Janeiro state.  The first human deaths in Rio de Janeiro state occurred in Casimiro de Abreu municipality, which is the center of the GLT geographic distribution.  In 2017, a few howler monkeys were reported to have died due to yellow fever in Macaé, Rio de Janeiro state, but we received no reports of affected GLTs.  By July 2017, human cases of the disease diminished as drier weather reduced mosquito numbers.  With the return of the rainy season in December 2017, the disease increased with a vengeance. The fact that winter has just started in the region is positive for the moment, due to the reduction in the number of mosquitos, but the disease cycle may continue for years.

In 2018, AMLD found dead howler monkeys in Casimiro de Abreu municipality, and three GLTs were reported killed by misinformed people who thought that nonhuman primates spread the disease.  In fact, monkeys sick with yellow fever serve as early warning of a potential human epidemic and can point health officials to priorities for vaccination of human populations.

Yellow fever is a virus that affects humans, nonhuman primates, and several species of mosquitoes. The disease is lethal in about 20-50% of infected persons and has resulted in the deaths of 331 people and an estimated 4,400 nonhuman primates in Brazil in recent months.

Yellow fever is not endemic to Brazil and thus Brazilian monkeys have not developed resistance to it.  Yellow fever is thought to have originated in Africa and first appeared in Brazil in 1685.  There is speculation that the disease and mosquito vector spread to Brazil as a result of the slave trade, which ended in Brazil in 1888. More information on yellow fever in Brazil is available here:

A safe and effective vaccine provides people with lifelong immunity against the disease.  Mass vaccination reduces human cases but cannot eliminate the disease because some female mosquitoes pass the virus on to their eggs.  A vaccine for nonhuman primates does not yet exist, but trials are underway.



In 2017 and 2018, AMLD and partners, including federal authorities, specialists in yellow fever, representatives from national and international zoos, and Brazilian health authorities developed a strategy and action plan to mitigate the threat of yellow fever to GLTs.  Components of the strategy include:

  • Continuous monitoring of the GLT metapopulation to detect threats including diseases such as yellow fever.
  • Collaborating with local health officials to ensure near 100% vaccination of people in the region. AMLD staff provided transportation to the local health department to deliver vaccine to people in rural areas far from urban centers.
  • Informing the local public how and why to get vaccinated.
  • Informing the local public that GLTs are victims of yellow fever and do not transmit the disease to humans. The objective is to avoid attacks on GLTs by misinformed local people.
  • Participating in a network exchanging current information on yellow fever, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of the Environment (Brazilian Primate Center), State and Municipal Health Departments and Fiocruz (a public research institute).

Support GLTs in Brazil with the ZooFari Auction!

The National Zoo's 2018 ZooFari auction is live! Bidding closes at 9pm on May 17th. Proceeds from the following items, generously donated by supporters of SGLT, will go directly to Brazil to help support AMLD and tamarins in the wild. See links below and help support GLTs with your bid! 

Knitting Wrap and Scarf

A Day at the Spa, a framed rhino oil painting

Dinner with a Zookeeper at XYZ

Dinner with a GLT Scientist at XYZ

Three 1-hour personalized Pet Training Classes by an experience animal trainer!

ZOOKEEPER FOR A DAY! Shadow a zookeeper at the National Zoo and learn what goes on behind the scenes!

Amazing Animal Adaptations: Spines, Quills, and Armor! Behind the Scenes Experience at Small Mammal House


Did you know Naked Mole Rats can PAINT? See with your own eyes… and take the art home!

Paint with an Armadillo at the National Zoo's Small Mammal House!

SLOTH EXPERIENCE! Get up close and personal with a two-toed sloth at the National Zoo!

MEET A TAMANDUA! See these arboreal anteaters, and feed them their favorite treats!

Paint with Tenrecs, and take the art home!




Emu Meet-and-Greet

Painting experience... with tamanduas!

Painting made by National Zoo's Fennec Fox, Teddy

Painting made by National Zoo's Meerkats, Baya, Dogo, and Conga

Painting made by National Zoo's Tenrec

Painting made by National Zoo's Naked Mole Rats

Painting by the National Zoo's Skunk, Trixie

Painting by the National Zoo's Dwarf Mongooses

Painting by Tamanduas from the National Zoo

Painting by a Three-Banded Armadillo

Painting by a Screaming Hairy Armadillo, Dylan Walter

Nose Prints from a Sloth!

Painting by Coatis "Quinn" and "Ivy"

Elephants and Giraffe on Safari - a set of two paintings!

Adorable Red Panda Paper Mache Head

Handcrafted replica of Fijian Kinikini war-club.

2 FREE Overnights of Dog Boarding!


Thirteen Gold Monkeys - A Novel, personally signed by the author Dr. Benjamin Beck

APE – The Novel, personally signed by the author Dr. Benjamin Beck

Exclusive Golden Lion Tamarin Association Soccer Ball & Tshirts

Trees for Tamarins – and Our Planet

Four Night Stay at Sea Colony, Bethany Beach, Delaware





Land Purchase Gives GLTs a Chance to Survive

April 10, 2018 –The Brazilian organization Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD) in partnership with the US organization SavingSpecies announced the purchase of a 586-acre property, known as the Igarapé Farm, in the center of the geographic distribution of golden lion tamarins (GLTs).  The purchase was made possible by a generous donation from DOB Ecology, a Dutch non-profit organization.

This purchase is strategic for the future of GLT conservation.   The property is located on the opposite side of BR101 Interstate Highway from Poço das Antas Biological Reserve, home to over 400 GLTs.  Recently widened to 4-lanes, the highway forms a barrier that GLTs and other terrestrial fauna can’t safely cross, permanently isolating the fauna in the Poço das Antas Reserve from the rest of the remaining forest.   The Brazilian Federal Government agency ICMBio (responsible for protected areas and endangered species) required the construction of a forested overpass as a condition for approval of the widening.  Construction of the overpass is expected to begin by the end of April.   AMLD has already planted a corridor connecting the Poço das Antas Reserve to the planned overpass on the south side of the highway.  When the forested overpass is constructed, and the entire 610 acres of cattle pasture on the newly acquired land are reforested, the GLTs marooned in the Reserve will be able to merge with descendants of zoo-born GLTs reintroduced in the 1990’s.  The resulting large and genetically healthy population will have a much greater chance of escaping extinction.

APF Plans for the construction of the forested overpass

AMLD plans to convert this property into a Permanent Private Conservation Reserve, thereby protecting its forest and GLTs in perpetuity.  The property will also serve as AMLD’s headquarters, where in addition to conducting conservation research and ecotours to GLTs in the forest, AMLD will host seminars, workshops, and events to engage the local community in restoration and protection of the forest throughout the GLT species range.

AMLD continues efforts to restore and connect an Atlantic Forest landscape that will save the Golden Lion Tamarin and hundreds of other species that exist only in this biodiversity hotspot from extinction, as well as improve well-being of the people of the region.  Join us in this effort.  Click here for how you can help.

From our partner, Saving Species: “The rainforest of coastal Brazil is one of the two concentrations of threatened species in the Americas,” states Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Chair of Conservation at Duke University and President of Saving Species.  “That’s because these regions have exceptional numbers of species with small geographical ranges and, tragically, exceptionally high rates of forest destruction.  Species with small geographical ranges like golden lion tamarins are the ones most at risk of extinction. (It’s easier to wipe out a species limited to a small area than one that ranges over a continent.)  Look at the satellite imagery and it’s easy to see the problem.  What little forest remains is in isolated patches.  And such places often have too few individuals of a species for them to be viable.  One such place is the Poço das Antas Biological Reserve.”