Monkeys looking like lions: Moscow Zoo has now its first rare golden lion tamarins

December 7, 2019
Parks and pedestrian areas

Moscow Zoo has now two five-year-old female golden lion tamarins, one of the rarest species of monkeys in the world listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Their population in the wild does not exceed a thousand individuals.

Golden marmosets were brought from Münster Zoo (Germany) in mid-October. Quarantined for more than a month, they were shown to public only at the end of November.

'We are very happy to have golden tamarins in our collection. We have been negotiating on obtaining these beautiful primates for more than a year. Two females were brought by our colleagues from Münster upon the recommendation of the coordinator of the European programme dealing with this species. Over time, we expect to bring a male to couple it with one of the females and get offspring. Our zoologists have an extensive experience working with different species of primates, from marmosets to gorillas, so there should be no difficulties in keeping lion-headed tamarins,' said Svetlana Akulova, Director General of the Moscow Zoo.

Lion tamarins have bright golden fur, soft and long, with a luxuriant mane on the head hiding ears. Mane and long tail with thick end make monkeys look like lions. Lion tamarins are quite small. On average, an adult marmoset's body is about 20 cm long, weighing 500-900 g, with the tail reaching 35 cm.

These animals deftly climb on thin branches and vines and, if endangered, flee from predators, jumping from one tree to another. Tamarins feed on ripe fruit, various insects, lizards, bird eggs and thick resin of some tree species.

These marmosets spend most of their life time in trees. They rarely go down to the ground, only when it is really necessary, in particular, in the mating season. Tamarins are most active in the morning and afternoon. In the evening, they look for a shelter in hollows or branches to sleep.

The decline in the number of lion tamarins in the wild is primarily due to the destruction of their natural habitat — tropical forests in south-eastern Brazil, as well as the lack of food and poaching. The latter had an extremely negative impact on the natural population of the species in the 19th and 20th centuries. Poachers used to catch lion tamarins and sell them on the black market. These primates are still the best catch for poachers due to their unusual look.

However, in Brazil, the species is protected nationwide. It is a national treasure, which is transferred to the best world zoos exclusively within the conservation, study and breeding programme. Zoos willing to keep tamarins in their collection must meet strict requirements.  The animals must have separate enclosures with comfort temperature and high humidity, well-balanced diet and regular check-ups.

Lion tamarins have their own studbooks of the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria kept. They are also included in the European Endangered Species Programme.  Today, the Moscow Zoo is taking part in these important environmental initiatives, too.

Female marmosets eagerly explore the world and spend a lot of time playing with each other in their enclosure in the left wing of the Monkey House pavilion.  If you want to see them when they are most active, go to the Zoo in the morning, as in the afternoon and evening marmosets often hide in the branches under the ceiling to take a nap.

The Moscow Zoo regularly adds new species to its collection, which already boasts over 1,000 animal species. An aardvark and three couples of gentoo penguins arrived in 2017. In 2018, it received two Amur tigers, an Amur leopard, secretary bird, crested curassows and common trumpeters.  In 2019, the Zoo acquired a Poitou donkey, a binturong, three female Bali starlings and a rare male maned wolf. In 2020, it is to have a knob-scale lizard and white-faced sakis. The Moscow Zoo is a regular participant of international rare animal conservation programs.


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