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Thank you for supporting golden lion tamarins




(Leontopithecus rosalia)


tamarin range map

Classification and Range

The golden lion tamarin belongs to the family Leontopithecus which includes four distinct species; the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), the golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas), the black-faced lion tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara) and the black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus). While the golden lion tamarins are the most abundant, they only number about 1,000 in the wild. They are currently found only in a small area of Brazil northeast of Rio de Janeiro.


Tropical humid forest. Golden lion tamarins prefer mature primary forest but can utilize various kinds of secondary forests. They tend to select areas with heavy vine growth for cover and with tree holes for sleeping sites.

Head and body length:

7.9-13.2 inches (200-326 mm)

Tail length:

12.4-15.7 inches (315-400 mm)

Weight, females:

12.7-28 ounces (361-794 g)

Weight, males:

15.4-25 ounces (437-710 g)

Life Expectancy

Approximately 15 years in the wild; longevity record in a zoo is about 30 years and still living.


In the wild: Primarily insects and fruit, but also spiders, snails, small lizards, birds and bird eggs

At the zoo: Canned marmoset diet, fruits, mealworms and crickets


Females will reach sexual maturity at 18 months, males at 24 months of age. Golden lion tamarins are seasonal breeders, with mating taking place May-July. The gestation period is 132-134 days. In captivity, a female produces one or sometimes two litters a year, usually consisting of twins.

Life Cycle

The young cling to the mother for the first week or so, and then are taken over by the father, being transferred back to the mother for nursing. Infants from previous births also provide assistance carrying for the young. The experience gained by the juveniles assisting in the care of the infants is essential in developing the skills necessary in rearing their own young when they mature. This will continue for about three months; by 4 months the young are fully independent with full adult size being obtained by 1 year of age. Adults of the same sex are extremely aggressive toward one another. The adult male and female of a group form permanent pair bonds.

Tamarins tend to be monogamous and remain with the same mate. This breeding pair forms the base for a family group of two to eight family members, with temporary associations of 15-16. Tamarins have a wide variety of vocalizations which they use in communicating in the dense forest.

Population Control!

Reproduction by subordinate females is suppressed behaviorally by the dominant female in a group. This gives the dominate female's infant unrestricted access to the available resources, especially hard-to-find foods to insure adequate nutrition.

Location at the Zoo

Golden lion tamarins are on exhibit in the Tropical Rain Forest building. Other animals in this building are the ocelot, poison dart frog, several bird species and the yellow anaconda, among others.

Conservation Connection

The golden lion tamarin is an endangered species. This tamarin's position in the wild is very unstable. The Atlantic coastal rain forest has been almost completely developed for plantations, cattle grazing and housing. Only a few isolated forest tracts remain. Golden lion tamarin have also been captured for sale as pets in nearby cities. This species is also susceptible to many human diseases like measles and various viruses.

Golden lion tamarins reproduced poorly in captivity until studies determined the best group size and organization for reproduction and rearing. They also suffered a high mortality rate in captivity until zoos discovered that they need insects or meat protein in their diet and vitamin D from sunlight. The numbers in North American zoos have multiplied from 70 tamarins in 1969 to around 500 animals in 1995. The number of institutions involved in the international management programs now totals 140 worldwide in North America, Europe, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America.

A golden lion tamarin biological reserve was created in Brazil in 1974. Poco das Antas is a 14,826 acre (6,000 ha) reserve located about 60 miles (100 km) northeast of Rio de Janeiro. About 40% of the reserve has mature forest. Nearly 140 captive-bred animals have been released in the Poco das Antas Biological Reserve and surrounding areas since 1984. Animals from several different zoos are typically first sent to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, where they are given a taste of independence. They are "free-ranged" in a patch of woods on the zoo grounds, constrained only by a "psychological cage" which keeps them near a nest box and food source. After a few months of this training they are sent to the Golden Lion Tamarin Project Headquarters at Poco das Antas. There they are provided with nest boxes and food, but the food is moved farther and farther away and gradually reduced to encourage natural foraging. Out of those successfully reintroduced, 30 have survived to date, and have successfully raised 95 offspring. Some offspring are the result of pairings between captive and wild-born animals. Included within those animals that have been reintroduced and have reproduced are two tamarins born and reared here at Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo Is Helping-With Your Support!

For many animals, flexible and sustainable conservation programs are essential. Partnerships with other zoos can support healthy captive populations, while in-situ fieldwork can provide successful on-ground solutions. There are several other field-based conservation projects supported by Woodland Park Zoo that aim to help animals and plants in the savanna habitat of the Grant's gazelle.

Each in-situ project supported by the zoo aims to provide a broad, holistic approach to conservation, encompassing research, education, habitat and species preservation. This includes comprehensive, cooperative strategies to link the needs of animals with the people who share their ecosystems.

How You Can Help!

The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in a conservation organization of your choice. Don't buy products made from wild animal parts. Let your elected representatives know your views about protecting endangered species and wild habitats.

Contact Woodland Park Zoo at to find out about ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about the golden lion tamarin and other primates by contacting Conservation International, 1015 18th St. NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20036; 202.429.9489; Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Nowak, Ronald M., ed. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. 5th Edition. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London. 1,629 p.

Rowe, Noel. 1996. The Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates. Pogonias Press, East Hampton, New York, NY. 263 p.


For Kids!

Ancona, G. 1994. The Golden Lion Tamarin Comes Home.McMillian Press, New York, NY. 38 p.


Julivert, Maria Angels. 1996. Primates. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, New York, NY. 31 p.


Golden Lion Tamarin Taxonomy

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primate
Family: Cebidae
Genus: Leontopithecus
Species: L. rosalia

Golden Lion Tamarin Fascinating Facts

  • Golden lion tamarin males' weight increases in May before breeding and decreases during June-July!
  • The females' milk is richer in protein and ash than other primate groups!
  • Golden lion tamarins have claws instead of fingernails, a trait shared by all tamarins!