There are two lacunae in the range, one in the north near the coast south of the lower Rio de Contas to the mouth of the Rio Ilhus, and the other between the lower reaches of the Rio Pardo and the Rio Jequitinhonha (Pinto and Tavares 1994; Pinto and Rylands 1997). Coimbra-Filho and Mittermeier (1973, 1977) argued that the original range of L. chrysomelas extended south only to the Rio Pardo, and that deforestation and the silting up of the river (see Coimbra-Filho and Cmara 1996) has resulted in lion tamarins crossing it along its middle reaches in recent times (the last century), thus explaining its presence there today, and its absence between the Jequitinhonha and Pardo downriver, further east. There is no obvious explanation for the absence of L. chrysomelas between the Rio de Contas and Ilhus to the north-east of its range.
Golden-headed lion tamarins are found only in Brazil. Due to habitat destruction, they are confined to the southern part of the state of Bahia, Brazil (Mitchell and Erwin 1986).
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Head and body length: 200-336mm
Tail length: 315-400mm
The physical appearance of Leontopithecus chrysomela is similar to other species of tamarins. It has relatively large canines with a small head and body. It is mostly black with a thick, long golden mane (Nowak and Paradiso 1983). There is very little sexual dimorphism in this species; males and females are quite similar in appearance (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).
Range mass: 360 to 710 g.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Habitat and Ecology
Marmosets and tamarins are distinguished from the other monkeys of the New World by their small size, modified claws rather than nails on all digits except the big toe, the presence of two as opposed to three molar teeth in either side of each jaw, and by the occurrence of twin births. They eat fruits, flowers, nectar, plant exudates (gums) and animal prey (including frogs, snails, lizards, spiders and insects (see Rylands 1993; Kierulff et al. 2002a).
Kierulff et al. (2002a) provide a comprehensive review of the behavioural ecology of the lion tamarins. They differ from other callithrichids in having long fingers and hands, which allow them to forage for prey efficiently in nooks and crannies and in epiphytic tank bromeliads. Lion tamarins live in extended family groups of usually 4 to 8 individuals. Four groups observed by Rylands (1989) had a mean size of 6.7 (range 5-8) individuals. Generally, only one female per group breeds during a particular breeding season. They breed once a year. The groups defend home ranges of 40 to more than 100 ha (the size depending on availability and distribution of foods and second-growth patches). A group studied by Rylands (1982, 1989) in the Lemos Maia Experimental Station, Una, used a home range of about 40 ha. Home ranges in the Una Biological Reserve were found to be larger, from 90 to more than 100 ha (Dietz et al. 1996). The smaller home range of the group in Lemos Maia may have have been due to a higher availability of food due to surrounding secondary forest.
French et al. (2002) review the reproductive biology of lion tamarins, Baker et al. (2002) review their mating system and group dynamics (focussing particularly on L. rosalia) and Tardif et al. (2002) aspects of infant care and development.
Adult male 620 g (n=2) (Rosenberger and Coimbra-Filho 1984)
Adult female 535 g (n=6) (Rosenberger and Coimbra-Filho 1984).
Leontopithecus chrysomela lives in the tropical forests of South America at heights of 3 to 10 meters (Mitchell and Erwin 1986, Nowak and Paradiso 1983).
Terrestrial Biomes: forest
Golden-headed lion tamarins are primarily insectivorous and frugivorous. However, they have been known to eat invertebrates such as spiders and snails. There are also records of this species eating lizards, bird eggs, and even small birds (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).
Animal Foods: birds; reptiles; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: omnivore
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Status: captivity: 21.3 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
In tamarin society, males and females mate for life and take equal part in raising their young.
Mating System: monogamous
Leontopithecus chrysomelas is a seasonal breeder. Breeding occurs mostly during the warm and wet season, September through March (Nowak, R.M. and J.L. Paradiso 1983).
Males and females reach sexually maturity at different times: males at approximately 24 months, and females at 18 months. Upon reaching sexual maturity, females begin an estrous cycle of two to three weeks. There is a gestation period of 125-132 days (Nowak, R.M. and J.L. Paradiso 1983)
Breeding season: Breeding occurs mostly during the warm and wet season, September through March
Range gestation period: 125 to 132 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 18 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 24 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Both males and females care for their young.
Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Leontopithecus chrysomelas
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2003Endangered (EN)
- 2000Endangered (EN)
- 1996Endangered (EN)
- 1996Endangered (EN)
- 1994Endangered (E)
- 1990Endangered (E)
- 1988Endangered (E)
- 1986Endangered (E)
- 1982Endangered (E)
Leontopithecus chrysomela numbers have been significantly depleted over the past several years. The remaining wild population, which exists only in a small region of Brazil, includes a total of 200 animals. The main problems for L. chrysomela are habitat destruction and illegal live capture. Over the past several years, these tamarins have been captured for use in zoological parks, laboratories, and the pet trade. However, this is a small problem compared to the habitat destruction this species has been faced with (Mitchell and Erwin 1986, Nowak and Paradiso 1983).
Only 1-5% of Brazil's original Atlantic forest is left standing. Deforestation has occurred heavily over the past five years to provide lumber and space for agriculture, livestock pasture, and housing development (Mitchell and Erwin 1986, Nowak and Paradiso 1983).
There are currently a few conservation projects in effect in Brazil. Una Biological Reserve is a protected 11,000 ha area within L. chrysomela range. However, reports indicate that this amount of space is still inadequate to promote a recovery of the population. The United States, in conjunction with the World Wildlife Federation and many smaller Brazilian institutions, has had a conservation program running since 1979. However, population size has declined dramatically since then. A third conservation effort, the Rio de Janeiro Primate Center, has a captive breeding colony of L. chrysomela. However, the colony is made up of only 25 animals (Mitchell and Erwin 1986, Nowak and Paradiso 1983).
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
Recorded population densities include 5.0 individuals/km in the Una Biological Reserve (Dietz et al. 1996), and 5.0-17.0 individuals/km or 0.90-3.0 groups/km in Lemos Maia Experimental Sytation, Una, Bahia (Rylands, 1982, 1989).
Threats to Golden-headed Lion Tamarins come from socio-economic transformations resulting from the difficulties of the cocoa industry (low prices and disease epidemics), that have dominated the region over the last 15 years, resulting in the expansion of alternative crops, notably African palm oil and coconuts (Alger and Caldas 1994). In the west of its range, the forest is increasingly destroyed and fragmented as a result of cattle ranching (Pinto 1994; Pinto and Rylands 1997).
A study by Dietz et al. (2000) examined inbreeding depression in small (50 or less) isolated populations of L. rosalia. They concluded that it reduced probability of long-term survival by about one-third. There is every reason to believe that inbreeding depression is likewise prejudicial to the isolated populations of L. chrysomelas, most especially in the western half of its range where forest fragmentation is extreme (Pinto and Rylands, 1997).
The Una Biological Reserve (18,500 ha), created to protect L. chrysomelas, has an estimated population of about 400-450 animals, and a key strategy which has guided conservation efforts over the last decade has been to promote the preservation of the forests adjacent to the Reserve (Alger and Arajo 1996; Alger et al. 1996; Blanes and Mallinson 1997; Santos and Blanes 1997, 1999). Besides the Una Biological Reserve, this species also occurs in: Serra sa Lontras National Park (16,800 ha), Una Wildlife Refuge (23,000 ha), Lemos Maia Experimental Station (CEPLAC/CEPEC) (495 ha), and Canavieiras Experimental Station (CEPLAC/CEPEC) (500 ha).
There is a well-managed captive breeding programme for L. chrysomelas with a good founder stock (Ballou et al. 2002). Although not currently contributing directly to the conservation of Golden-headed Lion Tamarins in the wild, the captive population of L. chrysomelas, which arose from animals confiscated from illegal trade in the 1980s (Mallinson 1984; Konstant 1986), is an important genetic reservoir: a guarantee of a portion of the genetic variation in this species, while the wild populations continue to decline with ongoing deforestation.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The cocoa industry is fairly large in Brazil. Because cocoa plants grow best in shade, plantation owners prefer to have forests surrounding their crop. Therefore, a few of the forests that would have been destroyed for development have been left intact (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).
The tamarins, after being pushed out of their native forests, have started to move into these plantation forests. Many plantation owners have complained that this movement is adversely affecting their crop (Nowak and Paradiso 1983).
Golden-headed lion tamarin
The golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas), also the golden-headed tamarin, is a lion tamarin endemic to Brazil. It is found only in the lowland and premontane tropical forest fragments in the state of Bahia, and therefore is considered to be an endangered species. It lives at heights of 3–10 metres (9.8–32.8 ft). Its preferred habitat is within mature forest, but with habitat destruction this is not always the case. Several sources seem to have different information on the number of individuals within a group, and the type of social system that may be apparent. The golden-headed lion tamarin lives within group sizes ranging from 2 to 11 individuals, with the average size ranging from 4 to 7. According to various sources, the group may consist of two adult males, one adult female, and any immature individuals, one male and one female and any immature individuals, or there may be one producing pair and a varying number of other group members, usually offspring from previous generations. There is not much known on its mating system, but according to different sources, and information on the possible social groups, it can be assumed that some may practice monogamous mating systems, and some may practice polyandrous mating systems. Both males and females invest energy in caring for the young, and all members of the group also help with juvenile care.
Raboy & Dietz, who completed a study at Una Biological Reserve on diet and foraging patterns, observed that the golden-headed lion tamarin tends to defend a large home range relative to its small body size, (ranging from 40-320 hectares). It has a very wide diet; it eats plants, fruits, flowers, nectar, insects and small invertebrates; which include insect larvae, spiders, snails, frogs, lizards, bird eggs and small snakes. Typically, fruits are eaten shortly after awaking, as the fruit sugars provide quick energy for hunting later on. It searches for animal prey within epiphytic bromeliads; if its home range does not contain many bromeliads, then it will also forage in crevices, holes in trees, between palm fronds and in leaf litter. It occasionally eats gum, but this behavior is rare in this species of tamarin. Since its habitat is fairly stable within the rainforest, its preferred food is available year round and they do not need to resort to the low nutritional value of exudates.
The study showed that in the wild the golden-headed lion tamarin spends about 50% of its time in only 11% of its home range. Its ranging patterns appear to be strongly influenced by resource acquisition and much less by territorial defense. The groups showed very few encounters with neighboring groups, but when it did occur, the encounters were always aggressive, and included intensive bouts of long-calling, chases, and fights between the different groups. The golden-headed lion tamarin spends much of its time foraging and traveling within its home range to the next foraging site. Keep in mind that this study was completed at the biggest intact forest available to L. chrysomelas, so its behavior may change depending on the habitat and resources available. At a golden-headed lion tamarin site in Lemos Maia, it was shown that groups had an average home range of only 63 hectares, but they ranged in a patch of forest that was almost entirely discontinuous from the neighboring forests.
Its home range may be large in order to provide a sufficient amount of easily depletable fruit and prey foraging sites over the long term. On average it defended home ranges that are 123 hectares. Space is not necessarily used exclusively, and golden-headed lion tamarin groups may occupy areas that overlap to some extent at their borders
The IUCN Red List categorized the golden-headed lion tamarin as endangered in 1982. According to Costa, Leite, Mendes, and Ditchfield, Brazil accounts for about 14% of the world's biota and has the largest mammal diversity in the world, with more than 530 described species. According to the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), out of the 24 endemic primates of the Atlantic Forest, 15 of them are threatened. Brazil's Atlantic forest is one of the most endangered ecosystems on earth, in which the majority of the original forest has been cleared for farming, mining, ranching & expanding urban centers. The four species of lion tamarin have been studied and managed extensively, combining research on ecology, captive breeding, reintroduction and translocation, habitat restoration and protection, and environmental education.
Threats to survival
The forest of Bahia, Brazil has been reduced to 2% due to farming, ranching, mining and urbanization. The Atlantic Forest is highly fragmented, and the disappearance of this habitat is the main reason for the golden-headed lion tamarin's decline. The majority of the forest was once dominated by cocoa plants through a method known as cabruca. This is a system of shade cropping in which the middle and understory trees are removed and replaced with cocoa trees. Although the tamarin's habitat is reduced, it still leaves old growth trees which give the tamarins a place to forage and to sleep. In 1989 farmers abandoned their cocoa plants due to a fungus that attacked their harvest. The old growth which was once available abundantly to the tamarins was destroyed to harvest timber, clear land for cattle or grow other crops. The Atlantic Forest is now a mosaic of primary and secondary forest, and agricultural lands.
In 1980 the Brazilian government created the Una Biological Reserve for the protection of the golden-headed lion tamarin and its habitat. Over the years the park has been growing slowly as the government acquires more land. The population at Una is the largest population in the most intact forest. There is also a captive breeding colony of 25 golden-headed lion tamarins at the Rio de Janeiro Primate Center. In the early 1990s, the Landowner's Environmental Protection Plan was created to educate the community about the importance of protecting the forest and the tamarin. The protection plan included conservation activities on over 70% of the neighboring farms, educating farmers on how to use sustainable agriculture in order to preserve the tamarin's habitat. The plan also educates school children, hunters and forest guards on conservation, property rights and land use. This method of educating and involving the community has had great success for preserving the tamarin and their habitat. Kleiman and Mallinson summarize the conservation efforts that the IBAMA have made in order to help all four of the tamarin species with their population decline. Between 1985 and 1991 IBAMA established four International Recovery and Management Committees (IRMCs). These IRMCs provide IBAMA with official guidance in the recovery efforts and management of the four species, and they are recognized by the government of Brazil as technical advisors. Public concerns of the tamarin species occurred in the 1960s when Adelmar Coimbra-Filho brought to the attention the rapid declines of the golden lion tamarin due to exportation and habitat destruction. His input helped with the establishment of the biological reserves to protect lion tamarins. He founded the Rio de Janeiro Primate Center and he was the first person to breed the golden-headed lion tamarin. From 1983-1994 large numbers of golden headed lion tamarins were exported to Japan and Belgium as part of the exotic pet trade. IBAMA asked Jeremy Mallinson to form and become chair of an IRMC for the golden-headed lion tamarin. The initial objective of the committee was to have all of the tamarins returned to Brazil, and some of them were returned. The committees promotes lion tamarins as a flagship species with the ultimate intent being the preservation of the unique Atlantic Forest, ecosystem and its many endemic plants and animal. The IRMC is divided into several tasks which include the captive management and research program, conservation and education program in Bahia, a Landowner's Environmental Education Program, and a field study of ecology and behavior in the Federal Una Biological Reserve. They provide IBAMA with recommendations concerning demographic and genetic management, research proposals for wild and captive populations, community conservation education programs, expansion of protected areas through land acquisition, and they also lobby appropriate agencies to support new legislation. The IRMC members are international in composition with members from diverse disciplines, consisting of conservationists, field biologists, zoo biologists, educators, administrators, and IBAMA staff.
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