Students' Q and A about GLTs

We at SGLT are always happy to see the interest that students on all levels have shown in choosing to do their assignments on GLTs.  Although this website does serve as a good overall reference, we do receive specific questions that our Board members, volunteers, and partners have provided as their time allows.  Below are a few examples that we hope will add important information and serve to increase the awareness and interest in this beautiful animal.

What is your favorite thing about the Golden Lion Tamarin Monkeys?

GLTs are incredibly active and curious - I've heard other colleagues describe them as perpetual two year olds! They spend lots of time exploring, creating mischief, and getting themselves into all sorts of trouble. They're really fun animals to watch. Do you live near a zoo with GLTs? You should go watch them! You can see them on Zoo Atlanta's webcam, too!

Do you think zoos are helping or hurting the population of the Golden Lion Tamarin Monkeys and why?

Zoos are definitely helping the population of GLTs. In 1970 there were only about 200 GLTs in the world. Now there are about 1700 in the wild and another 500 in zoos across the world. When GLTs that were confiscated from poachers were given to zoos, zoos let the GLTs breed and then reintroduced them into the wild - that was a huge help!

Have you heard that they are going extinct and are zoos doing anything to help out?

GLTs were going extinct, but they were one of the very rare animals that actually changed from Critically Endangered to Endangered in the 2000's - that's a HUGE success! Zoos helped by providing resources, including staff, training, and funds, not to mention space to exhibit GLTs and education the world about the plight of GLTs. 

What is the most interesting fact that you know about the Golden Lion Tamarin Monkeys?

GLTs almost always have twins! I find that incredibly interesting... sometimes they can have triplets, and sometimes they have singletons, but more often than not they have twins!

What would be affected if the golden lion tamarin was extinct?

Today, GLT distribution is restricted to 8 municipalities 100km from Rio de Janeiro city. Even in its reduced state the Atlantic Forest has enormous social, economic, and environmental importance: 52% of Atlantic Forest trees, 92% of its amphibians and at least 158 bird species are found nowhere else in the world.  Eighteen of Brazil’s 77 primate species, including GLTs, are found only in the Atlantic Forest. The watershed that contains nearly all wild GLTs also provides fresh water to approximately one million people in local communities. If we lose GLTs it will be because we have lost its forest.  Forest protection benefits tamarins, thousands of other species--and people.

What do you think distinguishes the topic of endangered species situated within a tropical region from that situated in the arctic? Is habitat a critical factor worth considering in order to form solutions?   

There are many more species in tropical regions than in the arctic.  For nearly all species,  habitat destruction is the critical factor.  For tropical forest species, especially those such as the golden lion tamarin, that only originally existed in small areas of the tropical forest and have small populations, overall habitat destruction as well as fragmentation and/or degradation of the habitat will cause extinction due to inbreeding, if we do not work to restore forest corridors to allow individuals to travel between fragments to find suitable mates.

What are the key problems that have led to this environmental change?

In the case of GLTs, the destruction of their Atlantic coastal Forest habitat began shortly after the discovery of  Brazil by the Portuguese explorers in the 1500’s.  First there was large scale extraction of timber such as Brasilwood to send back to Portugal for dyeing royal garments.  Later the forest was cleared for agricultural crops such as coffee.  Today only 2% of the original GLT forest habitat remains, most in secondary forest fragments.  The main threat today is unplanned urban expansion, driven by Brazil’s drive to increase the supply of energy and transportation for economic development.  The remaining GLT habitat is located in between the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area city less than 100km in one direction and one of Brazil’s main off-shore petroleum wells in the other direction.  The municipal zoning plans need to be strengthened to plan WHERE urban growth takes place; otherwise the forest and the regions water supply as well as much of its natural capital for quality of life will be completely destroyed.

What implications would the endangerment of species have for human beings?

The same forest on which GLTs depend also supplies water to a large human population along the coast.  The forest also provides makes a huge contribution to quality of human life – green space and the natural world are important for human psychological and spiritual needs.  In addition, the thousands of species in this habitat deserve protection in themselves.  They each have a role in the complex balance of nature, on which humans depend as well.  Most of this is very little understood.

What are current conservation efforts being put in place and how would you rate their effectiveness? Do you have any personal recommendations as to how they may be improved? What are some other possible solutions?

For conservation of GLTs we have a specific strategic plan with actions we know will succeed in saving the species.  We are protecting the remaining forest fragments and restoring the forest connectivity with corridors to allow the GLTs to reach a viable population.  We are also working with a variety of education  and capacity building activities in the surrounding community to improve and enforce municipal land use zoning so as to not allow the remaining forest habitat to succumb to urbanization.  We are also working with rural landowners to help them to produce sufficient livelihood from their rural properties to ensure they will maintain them rural rather than selling out to development.

Do you come across any problems in trying to conserve the GLT's? Any environmental, ethical, economical or social?  Is it a very exspensive project to keep running?

There are a number of problems in conserving GLTs, and we have been working for many years to resolve these problems.  The loss of their habitat to farming, ranching, and human development has reduced their natural habitat to a mere 2% of the original area -- and much of that is fragmented.  We have worked to mobilize local landowners, both large and small, to restore forest on their land and to plant forest corridors to reconnect the landscape.  We collaborate with government agencies and community organizations to establish policies and plan regional land use to save forest, tamarins, and water for future generations.  We scientifically manage the wild population of tamarins to minimize inbreeding and maximize the probability of long-term survival.

A great challenge we face is the ability to fund these extensive efforts and support the staff in our Brazilian partner organization (the AMLD) who work tirelessly on a daily basis.  We receive funding from a number of sources -- both large and small.  We do have a few donors who provide fairly substantial grants, but also enjoy having many smaller donors -- even children who have held fundraisers among their peers, had lemonade stands to send all profits to our organization, etc. 

I would like to know if I could use the name of your website to put on posters about saving Golden Lion Tamarins as a place to donate to.

By all means, please feel free to do so.

Why are Golden Lion Tamarins I usually born in pairs? 

One explanation (which has not been tested in any scientific way) is that GLTs evolved from larger ancestors (this is generally accepted as correct).  As they shrank over evolutionary time, the birth of single large offspring became difficult due to obstetric constraints.  Thus, natural selection favored Callitrichidae (marmosets, tamarins and lion tamarins) that gave birth to twins rather than singletons.  This story has been expanded to explain the evolution of monogamy and cooperative breeding in callitrichids: Mom can’t care for 2 rapidly growing offspring by herself.  She needs lots of help from Dad.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced? 

According to SGLT's Vice President, his greatest challenge (i.e. scariest moment) occurred in 1985, when he realized that GLTs would go extinct in the wild unless we (a small group without a plan or funds) were able to prevent it.