The tiny cotton-top tamarin is one of the smallest primates in the world. At 30cm tall (plus a bit extra for their tales) these furry-headed monkeys are about the size of a small squirrel you might find in your garden.
But unlike the squirrels in your garden, the cotton-top tamarin is a critically endangered species, among the most endangered primates on earth. Experts believe that there could be fewer than 2,000 cotton-top tamarins left in the wild.
So how has this happened? Why are cotton-top tamarins so endangered?
As with most endangered species, the greatest threat to the survival of the cotton-top tamarin is deforestation and habitat loss through human activity. In the wild, these tamarins are found only in Northwest Columbia, in a country that experiences some of the worst deforestation in the world. It’s estimated that around 5% of tropical habitat is lost in Columbia each year, mainly due to farming and urban development.
In the mid to late twentieth century between 20,000 and 40,000 tamarins were exported from Columbia to the United States. The reason? Biomedical research. Well into the 1970s, scientists in America were using cotton-top tamarins for research into certain types of cancer. So many tamarins were exported for animal testing that the tiny primates were declared endangered as early as 1973.
Cotton top tamarins are very cute, aren’t they? While we can’t disagree with that, their charm and character has made them a huge target for the illegal pet trade for decades, which continues to seriously endanger the survival of the tamarins today. Even though there are laws all over the world outlawing the activity, tamarins are still bought and sold on the black market as pets.
Though natural disasters happen – well – naturally, they can have a devastating impact on already dwindling populations of cotton top tamarins. For example, in periods of severe drought pregnant tamarins are overwhelmingly unable to give birth to healthy babies who can survive. Though these situations occur in the wild, tamarins may struggle to survive as they once could due to the other threats they face.
Many local communities in Northwest Columbia are not aware that their small monkey neighbours are critically endangered in the wild. While deforestation and illegal international trade play the biggest part in their declining numbers, tamarins are also hunted for meat and occasionally sport. Charities based in Columbia work with local communities to raise awareness and give people opportunities to play a part in saving the forest and its monkeys.
We’re lucky enough to have cotton-top tamarins here at the aquarium, where you can learn more about them and what can be done to save them from extinction. Come and visit all our remarkable creatures, and save 10% off your tickets when you book online.