Golden Lion Tamarin Reintroduction Program
Biodiversity may be our most precious gift on this planet. It is amazing to think about how much we know about our fellow creatures, and even more amazing to realize there is still so much to learn. From the smallest pollen to the biggest whale, every species has evolved to be a special part of its ecosystem. It is when we lose sight of the intrinsic value of all this life that we find ourselves destroying the delicate web and irreparably damaging ourselves as well. We cut down entire jungles into grazing land, irrigate vast deserts into golf courses, seal up marshes for business offices, dump toxic waste in the oceans. Since the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, many animal and plant populations have been brought back from the brink of extinction. But many more have been lost and there are still nearly a thousand names on the list, and that is even an understatement of the true danger we’re in. There are several continuing efforts focused on saving creatures and their habitats from destruction. Among the more promising is the Golden Lion Tamarin Reintroduction Program.
Leontopithecus rosalia, common name golden lion tamarin (GLT), are small monkeys native to the coastal rain forests of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But their forests are disappearing fast (98% gone since 1850, according to the World Conservation Monitoring Center) to make way for "development" and the tamarins are disappearing with them. There are three other species of tamarin native only to Brazil: the black tamarin, the black-faced tamarin, and the golden-headed tamarin. All have playful temperaments and thus have also fallen victim to illegal trade in exotic pets since the banning of legal exportation in 1967 (www.selu.com...). All are now considered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to be critically endangered. Less than 8,000 square miles of their original 400,000 square mile habitat remains intact and only 200 GLTs were surviving in the wild in 1983 when conservation biologist Dr. Jim Dietz began his studies in Brazil.
Preservation efforts have focused on the Poco das Antas ("pool of tapirs") Biological Reserve, run by Brazil’s Institute for the Environment and Renewable Resources (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiete-- IBMA). The reserve is a 13,000 acre patch of forest, swamp and grassland that is the largest stretch of untouched forest within the tamarins’ range. Poco das Antas was home to as few as 75 individuals before efforts began in 1974; now there are 350 (www.endangered...). Also a new haven for the wild tamarin population is Fazenda Uniao, a 5,900 acre reserve run by Brazil’s formerly government-run railroad company, which has received 23 tamarins from depleted forest areas since 1991 (Cohn 28).
Zoos are by no means adequate replacement for the natural habitat of any species. But they often contribute knowledge, staff members, and money to conservation efforts. And,...