The Golden lion tamarin is a small, endangered primate, endemic to the Atlantic coast of Brazil. In spite of its name, this monkey isn't related to lions. Instead, this species is so called due to exhibiting a magnificent ring of hair that shines in the sun, resembling an elegant lion mane. Otherwise called 'Golden marmoset', this New World monkey is one of the 4 species of lion tamarin and one of the world's rarest animals. The Golden lion tamarins have been an important part of local legends and fables.
The Golden lion tamarins are endemic to south-eastern Brazil. The current range of this species is limited to 3 small areas of this region: Poço das Antas Biological Reserve, Fazenda União Biological Reserve as well as private land through the Reintroduction Program. Within this territory, the Golden lion tamarins inhabit forest sub-canopy, typically 5 - 20 feet of the ground. Overall, the preferred type of habitat is humid, secluded canopy, dominated by vines and having arboreal pathways to protect these monkeys from aerial predators. Other suitable types of habitat include cultivated land and secondary re-growth forest.
These primates form small family units of 2 - 8 individuals, which can be either nuclear or extended families, typically consisting a breeding pair with their young of one or two litters as well as other related animals. Group members display highly territorial behavior, defending the home range of the community against outsiders by scent markings and specialized calls. Aggression is displayed by staring, an open mouth or an arched back. Golden lion tamarins spend more time grooming than any other primate in the world. Grooming is mainly performed by adult individuals, typically males, grooming females. Golden lion tamarins are very social, friendly and playful animals. They can often be observed huddling and playing together. Wrestling and chasing are among other important activities. These primates are diurnal creatures, sleeping from dusk until sunrise and occasionally taking nap during the midday.
These animals are considered omnivores, maintaining insectivorous and frugivorous diets. This means that they consume food of both plant and animal origin, from spiders, snails, small lizards, eggs and small birds to various fruits and vegetables.
Golden lion tamarins have a monogamous mating system with a single breeding pair in each group. They have two breeding seasons per year, occurring between September and March. Gestation period lasts for 130 - 135 days, yielding two infants, which are born with their complete fur and open eyes. During the first few weeks of their lives, the babies are constantly clung to their mother. At 5 weeks old, they start moving independently and exploring their surroundings. The infants are generally cared for by their father, although all members of the group participate in rearing the young. Nursing period lasts for about 90 days. Males are reproductively mature at around 2 years old, whereas females are ready to mate at 1.5 years of age.
These animals were formerly threatened by loss and fragmentation of their forest habitat. Individuals were captured for trade or as pets. Currently, the biggest concern to the overall population of the Golden lion tamarins is their highly limited and heavily fragmented natural range, compounded by the small overall population, which doesn't allow successful breeding. From time to time, these animals still appear in local markets, although this small-scale pet trade is no longer a serious threat.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Golden lion tamarins is now over 1,000 individuals. According to the Monkey Worlds, approximately 500 individuals are in captivity. Those in captivity are mainly found at the Poco Das Antas Biological Reserve. This is a swampy forest region in Rio de Janeiro. Currently, this species is classified as Endangered (EN), but its numbers remain stable.