Thirteen Gold Monkeys, a GLT novel


Thirteen Gold Monkeys, by Benjamin Beck, scientist emeritus in the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and SGLT board member, is a novel based on the first years of the reintroduction of zoo-born golden lion tamarins to Brazil. It’s a story of hope, love, and unspeakable death in a disappearing Brazilian rainforest. A team of dogged conservationists tries to save this beautiful monkey species from certain extinction by reinforcing their numbers with tamarins born in zoos. Will these immigrants learn to find enough to eat, find secure places to sleep, avoid predators, and survive attacks by wild tamarins? Will they find mates and make babies? Reintroduction is a new technique, and the conservationists struggle to find the best method. Can they train the tamarins in zoos to meet the challenges of the wild?

Once the monkeys are released in the forest, should the people give them food, shoo away predators, rescue them if they get lost, and treat them if they are injured? Or should they be hands-off, letting the monkeys fend for themselves and become wild as quickly as possible? Beck describes the reintroduction of the first 13 tamarins, capturing their fierce determination to survive, their loves and conflicts, their nurturant families, adorable babies, hidden language, sometimes comical attempts to solve the problems of adapting, and the agonizing deaths of those who don’t make it. He describes the power and beauty of the rainforest, and the loves, loyalties, conflicts, and sometimes hilarious bumbling by their human caretakers. Challenging their better-known bosses, two women, a zookeeper and a Brazilian field assistant, discover the right way to reintroduce the monkeys. But a well-known Rio citizen almost destroys the program in a callous act of vanity. The story is vivid and authentic; Beck was there and has studied animal thinking and monkey and ape conservation for more than 40 years.

The book is a tribute to the approximately 160 golden lion tamarins who gave their lives to this program, and to the dedicated animal keepers, curators, veterinarians, nutritionists, behavioral ecologists, population managers, registrars, educators, volunteers, and directors who helped to breed golden lion tamarins in about 30 zoos and research institutions, get them ready for reintroduction, tell the story to the world, and provide financial support. Critics of zoos take note: this is a case where zoos walked the conservation talk. Several zoos continue to provide some funding for ongoing golden lion conservation in Brazil.

Thirteen Gold Monkeys is available from Amazon (including a Kindle edition), Barnes and Noble (including a Nook edition), and OutSkirts Press, and is orderable from any bookseller. There is an iTunes version for iPhone/iPad. Fifty percent of any profits from the sale of the book will be donated to the Devra G. Kleiman endowment for the support of ongoing conservation efforts with golden lion tamarins.

Below are a few samples of reviews of Ben's book:

“Benjamin Beck brings us a golden lion tamarin’s view of the world in this captivating tale of heroic conservation in Brazil’s shrinking Atlantic Forest” – Melissa Block, Host, NPR’s All Things Considered.

“If you want to learn about the ups and downs and the ins and outs of conservation biology on the ground, this is the book to read. It'll be great for undergraduate and graduate students who want to learn about what they may be heading into in their professional careers. You'll learn about how science is done in the most difficult of situations in which many people would have thrown up their hands and gone home.” – Dr. Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today.

“…..draws the reader into how a diverse team of passionate scientists, zookeepers and field assistants works together to create what ultimately has become one of the most successful conservation programs ever developed. The descriptions of the Brazilian rainforest are sensual and evocative. The strong personalities portrayed are drawn with effective detail and the dialogue reads beautifully.” – Peter Clay, Conservationist.


Photo by Mehgan Murphy