Zoo and Golden Lion Tamarin Communities Unite to Save Brazil’s Endangered Species Legislation

Brazil’s newly minted Endangered Species Legislation just faced a severe challenge of which few people were aware.  In 2015, Brazilian Senator Ronaldo Caiado drafted bills designed to revoke Brazil’s 2014 Ministry of the Environment Endangered Species Legislation.  Caiado is the Senate leader of the representatives of the “Ruralistas”, powerful wealthy landowners who are against regulations they feel would negatively impact agribusiness. Votes on the bills were to take place just before Carnaval, 2016 (a 4-day national celebration). Made aware of the potential vote at the last minute, Brazil’s Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD) and partners mobilized social media to focus public attention on the problem. On 4 Feb 2016, Caiado withdrew the proposals in the face of mounting national and international public pressure. This is a significant victory for Brazil, for the many people who worked hard to make Brazil’s 2014 Endangered Species Legislation “world class”, and for the planet.

What was at stake?

If the 2014 legislation had been revoked, the 2003 Endangered Species Legislation would have been in force again for terrestrial animals including the four species of Lion Tamarins.  Brazil’s 2014 Legislation is a huge improvement over its 2003 Endangered Species Legislation.  Evaluation of species for the 2014 Legislation took five years (77 workshops) to complete and involved 1,383 specialists from 200 institutions.  The 2014 Legislation applies to each species the specific category (Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable etc.) used by IUCN, the world authority on categorizing endangered species.  These categories are assigned based on field data such as number of individuals, population trends and geographic range.  The 2003 Legislation was based on the opinions of local experts and assigned one category: Endangered.  The 2003 Legislation included 298 terrestrial animals; the 2014 Legislation lists 698 terrestrial animals.  The larger number in 2014 reflects the significant progress made in understanding the status of Brazil’s fauna and some changes in category: some improved, as was the case for Golden Lion Tamarins (moved from critically endangered to endangered), and many others are new additions.  Also, the 2003 List has several important omissions: Harpy Eagle, Amazon River Dolphin, Pampas Deer and Tapir among others. In summary, reverting to the 2003 Legislation would have endangered the conservation progress made during the past decade in Brazil, and would have put at risk the futures of many species on one or both Red Lists.

How was the crisis averted?

On 28 January 2016, ((O)) Eco (the non-profit environmental news service of a Brazilian NGO that prides itself on having no connection with political parties, corporations, or any other interest groups) sounded the alarm that Caiado’s proposals to revoke the 2014 Endangered Species Legislation would be voted on soon by the Brazilian Congress.  A day later, Luis Paulo Ferraz of Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD) forwarded the message to national and international partners worldwide. On 1 February, colleagues at the Brazilian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Parque das Aves developed an on-line petition in Portuguese, English and Spanish shared throughout Brazil and around the world via social networks.   As of this writing (Feb. 10), the petition has been signed by nearly 11,000 people, 90% of them Brazilians.  Caiado withdrew his proposals and announced that after speaking with environmentalists and representatives of the agribusiness sector he will hold Senate public hearings with members of the Agriculture and Environment Ministries to address this issue.

Lessons learned?

  • AMLD’s speaking out with Golden Lion Tamarin photos and logo made a difference, lending credibility to the campaign.  In two public statements on his own Facebook page Senator Caiado assured the Brazilian public that GLTs specifically would remain protected by the 2003 Legislation.  Several Brazilian NGOs mentioned AMLD’s endorsement of the on-line campaign.  AMLD and partners’ work to save GLTs is respected in Brazil.  Credibility matters.


  • Social media and personal contacts were more influential than the formal media and large NGOs.  TV, newspapers and their sites paid little attention to this potential crisis.  Ditto for the large international NGOs that lack the flexibility to act at the speed of today’s social media.  This potential crisis was averted due to a few individuals perceiving the problem, identifying effective ways the public could act, and quickly spreading the word through their social media networks.  In this case the entire sequence of events occurred over a period of only 8 days, concluding only 2 days before the beginning of Carnaval.


  • Finally, this is a useful example of why AMLD must continue on the very long term to monitor for new threats and be prepared to mobilize its wide net of partnerships and accumulated experience to avert crises like this one.  If Caiado’s proposals had passed, and they still may, we might have lost decades of work to keep Lion Tamarins safe from extinction.

How you can help:

  • Your tax-deductible donation to Save the Golden Lion Tamarin is a great investment in the future of endangered species.  Your support is critical to make sure the Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado can continue to coordinate on-the-ground efforts to save Golden Lion Tamarins in their native habitat in Rio de Janeiro, as well as to continue to monitor new threats that arise and mobilize partners to effectively address them:Donate Here


  • The coalition of Brazilian environmentalist organizations defending the Brazilian Endangered Species List requests that both concerned Brazilian and international colleagues continue to sign and circulate the petitions below.  They remain an important tool in a process involving public consultation and possibly Congressional debate.





43 institutions in 8 countries participated in the GLT reintroduction

Forty three institutions, including 41 zoos, one primate center, and one university research colony, were home to the 146 captive-born golden lion tamarins that were reintroduced to the wild in Brazil between 1984 and 2001. 

These institutions were located in eight countries on three continents, making this reintroduction arguably the most collaborative, international conservation effort in history.

Save the Golden Lion Tamarin Board Members completed a comprehensive listing of all insitutions and individual tamarins that participates in the reintrodctions in Brazil. These reintroductions were vital for the wild population, allowing the number of golden lion tamarins in the wild to reach its current estimate of 3,200 individuals. 

Detailed information about reintroductions can be found here on Save the Golden Lion Tamarin's website.


Translocating Tamarins for Genetic Diversity

On June 9th, Associação Mico-Leão Dourado's (AMLD) Metapopulation Management Team (Meta) translocated, or moved, 10 GLTs of the “SP” group from a small and isolated forest fragment to a large forest in the center of AMLD’s GLT management area. These GLTs are descendants of zoo-born tamarins reintroduced in the 1990’s and have yet to meet their first “native” GLT. This translocation is important because it transfers genetic diversity from the large and well-managed captive GLT population into the wild GLT population managed by AMLD. It’s also evidence of AMLD’s ability to scientifically manage the wild population.
 Meta team leader Andreia transports tamarins  (Photo by Andreia Martins)
Moving a group of GLTs from one forest to another is technically difficult and requires much preparation. The SP group lived on privately owned forest and was part of AMLD’s Forest-Friendly Ecotourism strategy. This GLT group was already accustomed to the presence of human observers, had individual dye marks and tattoos, and two adults carried radio collars. Prior to the translocation, Meta pre-baited the traps for weeks in order to ensure that all group members would be captured when the traps were opened.
The Meta team releases the tamarins in their new home. (Andreia Martins)
On the day of the translocation everything went as planned. AMLD captured the group early in the morning and transported the GLTs to the release site. When the traps were opened, the GLTs fed on bananas provided by the Meta team and then headed off to explore their new forest. Meta is monitoring their progress.

 The recently moved GLTs enjoy a snack before exploring their new habitat. (Andreia Martins)

The group that was translocated is known as the SP group. The SP group can be traced back to seven zoos on two continents. It was founded in Brazil in 2003 by wild-born offspring that were descended from Jorge’s group, which had originally been reintroduced in 2000, and the Olympia group, which had been reintroduced in 1996. The founding male of the SP group was known as JG8, who was born in Brazil in August of 2000, and OL15, who was born in Brazil in October of 2000.

The breeding female of the original Jorge’s group was born at Paignton Zoo in the U.K. and the male was born at the Mill Mountain Zoo in Roanoke, Virginia. They were paired at the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois and were reintroduced with four offspring that were born at Brookfield.

The breeding female of the original Olympia group was born at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska and the breeding male was born at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina. They were paired at the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas, and then moved to Zoo Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia, where they produced two offspring with whom they were reintroduced.  



AMLD is a finalist for Brazil's National Biodiversity Prize. Please vote and share!

The Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado’s golden lion tamarin conservation program has been chosen as one of 18 finalists for Brazil’s National Biodiversity Prize!  The winner will be chosen by an internet vote now open to the public till May 19!  

Here’s how to vote:

1. Go to and look for the colored box with Conservando a Mata Atlântica para manter uma população viável de micos-leões-dourado.   Be careful since many initiatives have similar names.

2. Click on the orange box marked VOTAR to the right of the initiative name.

3. In the white box enter the letters that appears in the black box above.

4. Click on the ORANGE box  - Sim, é esse mesmo! (Yes, it’s this one!) at the bottom of the window.



TR10 - The story of a 17-year-old tamarin

On November 20th of 2014, the golden lion tamarin field team trapped a group of GLTs on the Rio Vermelho ranch in Brazil. One had the tattoo “TR10." Andreia Martins, the team coordinator, was astonished to find that this GLT, a female, was more than 17 years old!  Andreia’s carefully maintained database showed that TR10 had been born on the ranch on September 17, 1997. She was still in good physical condition but her teeth were worn to the gum line. Nonetheless, the observers saw her eating fruits and even insects, and her weight seemed normal. One member of her group was seen carrying two infants. The team could not determine if they had been born to TR10, although she certainly has had many infants over the years.

TR10 in 2015. Photo by Andreia Martins.

The discovery of such an old tamarin raises the question of their longevity. A wild GLT known as “GLT3” was trapped with her family and rescued from a patch of forest that was being cut down by its owner in 1983. GLT3 was one of the first tamarins to be trapped by Jim Dietz in his now-classic field study. She had been born in 1981. Jim relocated GLT3 and her family to the Poço das Antas Reserve, where she survived 10 mates and gave birth to 34 offspring before her death in November 1998, also at the age of 17.

According to Jennifer Mickelberg, who maintains the studbook for captive golden lion tamarins and studies the conservation genetics of wild tamarins, the median age of captive golden lion tamarins is between 7 and 8 years. About 10% of all captive female golden lion tamarins live to be 17. The record age is 31 (a captive male), and the oldest captive female lived to be 25. But mammals generally live longer in captivity than in the wild because they have a steady supply of nutritious food, good veterinary care, and no predators. It’s therefore really noteworthy that TR10 and GLT3 both made it to 17—and that Andreia’s team was able to document these results.

The detailed scientific records that have been kept by GLT scientists for more than three decades reveal some additional interesting details. TR10’s father, known as “T3”, had been born in the Stockholm Zoo in Sweden and had been reintroduced to the wild on the Rio Vermelho ranch in 1992. He had a rocky start in the wild, and had to be rescued several times after he was reintroduced. But he survived and paired up with TR10’s mother, “E6,”who had been born at the Emmen Zoo in the Netherlands and had also been reintroduced in 1992. T3 lived to be 9, but E6 lived to be at least 16 ½ years old. Perhaps longevity runs in families?

Remarkable longevity has a downside. Golden lion tamarins that live too long tend to fill the available breeding opportunities with their many offspring, which prevents unrelated tamarins from breeding.  The result can be an overall increase in inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity. Jim, Jennifer, and Andreia and her team will continue to monitor the tamarins and track their pedigrees. They’ll keep a special eye on TR10.   

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