Golden Lion Tamarin

One of the most colourful of all monkeys, the golden lion tamarin has suffered from the extensive deforestation of its forest habitat, and is now considered endangered. The wild golden lion tamarin population had fallen to about 100 by the early 1980s, before a release scheme involving zoo-bred stock was established. Their numbers in the wild are now estimated at about 1500 individuals.

The golden lion tamarin lives in the forests along Brazil’s south-eastern coast. These forests are similar to the rainforests in the north-west of the Amazon Basin, but the trees in the coastal forests are not as tall. The tamarins live in an incredibly dense and humid environment, where leaves block out much of the sunlight, and where vines and other climbing plants fill the spaces under the crowns of trees.

Golden lion tamarins live in groups of about eight. Each group has a single breeding pair. The other members of the group help to rear the young. The father assists in the care of the young, giving them to the mother at feeding time and by later preparing their first solid food by squashing and softening it in his fingers. All group members share food and bond together by grooming each other’s fur. The males groom the females more often than the females do the males. The tamarins are diurnal, sleeping throughout the night and often having a nap at midday. They eat fruit, flowers and various small animals, as well as nectar. Golden lion tamarins use their hands to collect and manipulate food. For example, they use their long fingers to extract insects from under bark.

The golden lion tamarin is named after the golden mane around its small head, which gives it the appearance of a tiny lion. The back is covered in long, silky fur which varies from pale gold to a rich reddish gold. Unlike many primates, this monkey has claws instead of fingernails. It moves through the trees by walking, running and leaping from branch to branch.

Distribution: Occurs in coastal areas of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santos states. By 1981, it was restricted to just 900 square kilometres (350 square miles) in the Rio Sao Joao Basin.

Habitat: Tropical forest.

Weight: 400 - 800 g (14 - 29 oz).

Length: 45 - 56 cm (18 - 22 in) overall; the tail is longer than the body.

Maturity: Females 24 months; males 18 months.

Gestation Period: About 130 days; young are born from September to March.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 3 - 5 months; females give birth every 1.5 - 2 years.

Diet: Fruit, also eats invertebrates and small lizards.

Lifespan: Up to 15 years; 28 in captivity.

Status: Endangered.

Hitching a ride

Young tamarins are carried on the backs of adults - usually the male.


In both sexes, a long mane of fur surrounds the dark-coloured face.


The toes are long, helping the golden lion tamarin to probe into crevices to flush out invertebrates.


Primates generally have nails, but the tamarin’s claws are useful for grabbing invertebrates.


The front feet can be used to hold food, allowing the tamarin to eat while sitting on its haunches.

Strong bonds exist between members of a group.