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Golden Lion Tamarin Born at Santa Barbara Zoo

It's the zoo's first birth of the endangered species of monkey, native to Brazilian rainforests

On the morning of May 15, staff at the Santa Barbara Zoo observed that an infant golden lion tamarin, born on exhibit the night before, was clinging to its mother’s back.

This is the first viable birth at the Santa Barbara Zoo of this small endangered species of monkey from the Brazilian rainforests (called “GLTs” by keepers). Adults weigh about a pound and are about 10 inches tall, with 16-inch tails. The infant is currently about the size of a C battery.

It has not yet been examined by the zoo veterinarian, so its sex, weight and other details have not been released.

The zoo has exhibited GLTs since 1983. The golden lion tamarin family are on view in an exhibit near the train station. They have free access to their inside, off-exhibit area and may not be visible at all times.

“Golden lion tamarins have a really interesting story,” assistant zoo director Alan Varsik said. “They were one of the first species that zoos were able to successfully reintroduce to the wild. Their numbers had dropped precipitously, and captive breeding by zoos was integral to the success of the reintroduction effort. Though our young GLT isn’t identified to go to the wild, the birth here just creates more attention to the species and their story in the wild.”

Zoo staff was elated that a new female GLT, who arrived earlier this year from the Potowatami Zoo in Indiana, had produced an offspring with the zoo’s resident male. The zoo’s other resident female had never reproduced and is now too old to breed. She and a new elderly male golden lion tamarin from the Los Angeles Zoo were recently moved in with the toco toucans for their senior years, offering stimulus to both species.

The Santa Barbara Zoo now has five GLTs: the family on exhibit near the train station, and the pair housed with the toco toucans near the Humboldt penguin exhibit.

The small monkeys have a silky, golden coat and lion like mane around a dark face, giving the lionlike impression. They live in the forest canopy, 30 feet above the forest floor, in the coastal rainforests of Brazil. They face huge challenges in the wild as more than 99 percent of their forest habitat has been cut down for agriculture or housing construction. Adults are monogamous and share in the care of their young. Upon birth, the young climb atop their mother’s backs, leaving only to nurse. Both parents are involved in raising the young, who are weaned at five to six weeks.

— Julia McHugh is a publicist.

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