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Species: L. chrysomelas
Other names: mico-leão de cara dourada (Portuguese); tamarino león de cabeza dorada (Spanish); guldhuvad lejonapa, guldhuvad lejontamarin, or gyllenhuvad lejonapa (Swedish)
Total population: 6000 to 15,000 (wild), 600 (captive)
Gestation: 4.2 months (125 days)
Height: 250 mm (M), 236.3 mm (F)
Weight: 620 g (M), 534.8 g (F)
Golden-headed lion tamarins are one of four species of lion tamarins in the Genus Leontopithecus< that have similar body shapes and share several common features including a lionlike mane of hair surrounding their dark brown, or black, hairless faces (Rowe 1996). The golden-headed lion tamarin has black fur over its entire body except for on its head and mane, where the fur is a light to deep golden color. It also has golden fur on part of its tail, hands, feet, and forearms (Rowe 1996; Groves 2001). Males and females are about the same size and weight, though a female’s weight fluctuates more than a male’s during certain times in the reproductive cycle. In captivity, males weigh between 540 and 700 g (1.19 and 1.54 lb) and average 620 g 1.37 lb) and measure, on average, 250 mm (9.84 in) while females weigh between 480 and 590 g (1.06 and 1.30 lb) and average 534.8 g (1.18 lb) and measure, on average 236.3 mm (9.30 in) (Rosenberger & Coimbra-Filho 1984). Based on a few specimens, wild male golden-headed lion tamarins weigh 550 g (1.21 lb), and the average weight of wild females is 591 g (1.30 lb) (Leigh 1994; Raboy 2002).
Other characteristics shared by golden-headed lion tamarins include the presence of claw-like nails (called tegulae) instead of flat nails (called ungulae) as seen in humans and other primates, and the tendency to give birth to twins more frequently than singletons (Sussman 2000). The claw-like nails seen in golden-headed lion tamarins aid in their locomotion patterns of quadrupedal running, clinging, and leaping between trees. Having nails at the ends of their fingertips instead of on top of their fingertips allows them to efficiently grip vertical surfaces and may help stabilize them on small branches (Sussman 2000). The pattern of twinning that is common among golden-headed lion tamarins is an unusual characteristic for primates because of the high time and caloric investment necessary to carry and care for two infants at once. Lion tamarins and other callitrichines that exhibit this pattern have evolved social organizations and behaviors that include cooperative breeding to decrease the energetic strain on the mother and increase infant survival (Sussman 2000).
CURRENT RANGE MAPS (IUCN REDLIST):
Golden-headed lion tamarins are endemic to Brazil and are found in small and disjunctive areas of forest in the coastal states of Bahia and Minas Gerais (Rylands et al. 2002a). They are the northernmost species of lion tamarins and are found in the very southeastern area of Bahia and the extreme northeast of Minas Gerais within 150 km (93.2 mi) of the Atlantic coast and at altitudes below 500 m (1640 ft). The range is bound by the Rio de Contas in the north, the Rio Jequitinhonha in the south, the Atlantic Ocean in the east, and a change in altitude and vegetation in the west (de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997). The total area extends over about 19,000 km² (7336 mi²), but the forests in which they are found are highly fragmented because of land use activities including cattle ranching and cocoa cultivation. They are found in over 100 sites throughout their range, but are protected only in Bahia at Una Biological Reserve, a 94 km² (36.3 mi²) area that has a golden-headed lion tamarin population of 450 individuals as of 2000 (de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997; Rylands et al. 2002a; Cruz pers. comm.). There are more golden-headed lion tamarins than all of the other three species combined (L. rosalia, L. chrysopygus, and L. caissara, with the total wild population estimated to be between 6,000 and 15,000 individuals (de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997). There are about 600 golden-headed lion tamarins in captivity around the world (Rylands et al. 2002a).
Key research on golden-headed lion tamarins began with Adelmar Coimbra-Filho in the early 1970s and revolved around taxonomic history, geographic distribution and habitat type. He was the first to set up a captive breeding colony of the species and was instrumental in getting the land set aside for Una, where long-term research on golden-headed tamarins is still being conducted (Rylands et al. 2002b). Russell Mittermeier, James Dietz, Anthony Rylands, and Becky Raboy have also contributed greatly to the current base of knowledge about wild golden-headed lion tamarins while Kristel De Vleeschouwer and Linda Van Elsacker have been driving forces behind captive research (Rylands et al. 2002b).
Many habitats and vegetative types make up the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and golden-headed lion tamarins are found in three of these distinct regions. The coastal region in which golden-headed lion tamarins are found is classified as southern Bahian lowland evergreen tropical rain forest and supports primary forests with trees as tall as 50 m (164 ft) with a sparse understory epiphytes (de S. Pinto & Tavares 1994; Rylands et al. 1991-1992). Many of the primary forests are disturbed and have dense and bushy understories. There are also swampy regions in the stream valley bottoms which support large numbers of epiphytes, palms, and tree ferns, and areas of abandoned rubber plantations which are in the process of succession. The other typical forest type seen in this area is from cocoa cultivation, a crop that needs shade to grow. In a system called cabruca, cacao plants (Theobroma cacao) are grown in the shade under tall, canopy trees leaving some habitat for the golden-headed lion tamarins (Rylands 1989; de S. Pinto & Tavares 1994; Rylands et al. 2002a). In the evergreen tropical rain forest where golden-headed lion tamarins are found, there is no distinct dry season, and rainfall and temperature remain fairly constant throughout the year. The average temperature is 24°C (75°F) and annual rainfall is between 1300 and 2000 mm (4.27 and 6.56 ft), with the heaviest rainfall occurring from March to June and November to December (Rylands 1993). The other coastal habitat in which they are found is the restinga, coastal forest on sand very close to the ocean (Rylands et al. 1991-1992). Both of these habitat types are within 70 km (43.5 mi) of the coast (de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997).
The inland region of their range is between 70 and 150 km (43.5 and 93.2 mi) from the Atlantic coast and is a transitional area between the coastal forests and higher altitude forests where the vegetation is considered semideciduous tropical forest (Rylands et al. 1991-1992; de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997; da Silva & Casteleti 2003). There are fewer large trees in this region and the trees are at a higher density than the evergreen forest with large areas of undergrowth dominated by epiphytes (Rylands et al. 1991-1992). In this area, there is a distinct dry season lasting three to four months and annual rainfall is only about 1000 mm (3.28 ft) (de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997).
Information about wild golden-headed lion tamarin ecology primarily comes from research that has been conducted at Una Biological Reserve by Raboy and Dietz since 1991. Comparative research on the ecology of golden-headed lion tamarins and golden lion tamarins (L. rosalia) is unfolding and preliminary results suggest that the two are not as similar as expected given their taxonomic relationship. Care should be taken to avoid assuming the two exhibit identical ecological behaviors such as foraging, diet, and ranging patterns (Dietz 1997; Raboy & Dietz 2004).
Golden-headed lion tamarins are active for about nine to 12 hours per day, starting their day between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and ending it between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. They utilize tree cavities as sleeping sites and the entire group sleeps and leaves the nest site together in the morning (Kierulff et al. 2002). There is limited availability of sleeping sites in golden-headed lion tamarins’ home range at Una Biological Reserve (Raboy et al. 2004). This may be an ecological constraint as it affects how much they need to travel in the morning to get to food resources and how far they need to move in the evening to get to a sleeping site (Rylands 1993; Raboy & Dietz 2004). During the day, they spend time feeding, traveling, and resting. Resting is most common during the middle of the day and is usually accompanied by social activities such as grooming, playing, or remaining in physical contact with one another. Traveling is most common during the first and last hours of the day after leaving the nest site and when looking for a sleeping site (Raboy & Dietz 2004). At Una, golden-headed lion tamarins travel, on average, about 1750 m (1.09 mi) per day within their home ranges, which are about 1.23 km² (.475 mi²). Most of their time is concentrated in certain parts of their home ranges, probably related to resource distribution or habitat quality centered in a particular area (Raboy & Dietz 2004). At another site near Una, Lemos Maia Experimental Station of the Cocoa Research Center, golden-headed lion tamarins have smaller home range sizes, about .4 km2 (.154 mi2) and have day range lengths between 1410 and 2175 m (.876 and 1.35 mi) (Rylands 1989). Golden-headed lion tamarins prefer foraging at heights above 12 m (39.4 ft) and are generally found acquiring food between 13 and 19 m (42.7 and 62.3 ft). This is probably related to the presence of large bromeliads, important microhabitats at this level of the forest that provide food resources (Rylands 1989).
Feeding occurs throughout the day, depending on what type of food items are being acquired. Golden-headed lion tamarins are primarily frugivorous and over 70% of their diet is made up of ripe fruits. Searching for and eating fruit is primarily a morning activity, though they eat fruit throughout the day if they find it. They also eat animal prey, such as insects and small vertebrates, exudates, nectars, and occasionally they are seen eating flowers (Kierulff et al. 2002; Raboy & Dietz 2004). In order to obtain animal prey such as insects, insect larvae, spiders, snails, frogs, lizards, bird eggs, and small snakes, they exploit microhabitats in bromeliads and other epiphytes as well as tree cavities, palm tree crowns, bamboo, vines, tree bark, fallen and rotting wood, and leaf litter piles (Kierulff et al. 2002; Raboy & Dietz 2004). Their long, dexterous fingers allow them to search in a variety of small spaces for insects and manipulate prey effectively (Rylands 1996). Insect foraging is seen primarily in the late morning and afternoon hours. They also feed on exudates, though they are not as specialized in this food resource as other callitrichines and only eat that sap which is excreted from seed pods of a single plant, Parkia pendula (Rylands 1989; Raboy & Dietz 2004). Because of the lack of seasonality at Una, these lion tamarins do not experience periods of food shortages like other species of Leontopithecus. Whereas other callitrichines depend on gum and sap as a food source in the dry season, when fruits are not available and insects are difficult to acquire, golden-headed lion tamarins have relatively stable food supplies throughout the year and use gums less frequently (Raboy & Dietz 2004).
Golden-headed lion tamarins are sympatric with three other species of primates, the black tufted-ear marmoset (Callithrix kuhli), the yellow breasted capuchin (Cebus xanthosternos), and the northern masked titi (Callicebus personatus melanochir). The tamarins do not compete for resources with these other species because of differences in foraging techniques at different heights of the forest and the exploitation of different animal prey (Rylands 1989; 1993). They form mixed-species groups with the black tufted-ear marmosets and often travel together with them for the entire day. During these associations, individuals of both species use the same pathways in the canopy, forage side-by-side in fruit trees, and coordinate periods of travel and rest (Raboy 1998). Golden-headed lion tamarins and black tufted-ear marmosets both utilize fruit as a major food resource and both are small and vulnerable to a number of predators. This interesting pattern of association is probably beneficial to both species in foraging benefits and increased detection of, and safety from, predators (Raboy 1998). Because of their excellent skills as insect foragers, golden-headed lion tamarins often facilitate the capture of insects by other species as well. Birds like the white-fronted nunbird and the woodcreeper follow behind the tamarins as they forage in microhabitats and capture insects that are flushed out of bromeliads (Raboy 1998; Hankerson et al. in press).
Content last modified: July 20, 2005
Written by Kristina Cawthon Lang. Reviewed by Becky Raboy.
Cite this page as:
Cawthon Lang KA. 2005 July 20. Primate Factsheets: Golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology. Accessed 2020 July 23.
For individual primate species conservation status, please search the IUCN Red List.
Also search the current scientific literature for primate conservation status (overall as well as for individual species), and visit CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
Conservation information last updated in 2005 follows, for comparison:
Some of the problems contributing to their status in the wild include massive deforestation for commercial agriculture crops, habitat fragmentation, and encroaching human populations. Export for the international pet trade may also be a factor contributing to declining golden-headed lion tamarin populations.
CONSERVATION THREATS & POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS
Threat: Human-Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation
The extensive forests that used to blanket the state of Bahia, Brazil have been decreased to about 2% of their former range, being cleared for human activities including farming, ranching, mining, and urban sprawl (Mallinson 2001). In the western part of the state, cattle ranching dominates the economy and has resulted in widespread elimination of golden-headed lion tamarin habitat (de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997; Rylands et al. 2002b). In the eastern part of the state, where the majority of the remaining population survives, habitat destruction for agricultural crops is rampant. Traditionally, cocoa plantations dominated this region and many cocoa farmers continued to maintain more old growth forest than cocoa trees on their farms because of a method of growing cacao trees called cabruca. This is a system of shade cropping in which the middle and understory trees of intact forests are removed and replaced with cacao trees. While this reduces the number of lianas and eliminates much of the forest level where golden-headed lion tamarins live, there are still old growth trees that harbor sleeping sites and some foraging opportunities (Rylands et al. 2002b; Raboy et al. 2004). In the late 1970s, high prices of cocoa resulted in rapid expansion of cacao plantations. Unfortunately, high prices did not last and from 1986 to 1992, international cocoa prices bottomed out at the same time as witch’s broom disease began to spread through existing plantations. In 1989, the epidemic of witch’s broom disease, a fungus that attacks the cocoa and can only be combated by pruning the affected branches or burning the entire tree, forced farm owners to abandon their plantations, log the existing old growth on their land, and switch to alternative crops not grown in the same shade-cropping system (Rylands et al. 2002b). Old growth forest in cacao plantations that once was still useful to golden-headed lion tamarins was being destroyed either to harvest the trees for lumber, clear land for cattle ranching, or was replaced by other crops including coconut palms, African oil palms and peppers (Rylands et al. 2002b).
The rapid rate of habitat destruction within the range of the golden-headed lion tamarins indicates that their numbers will not remain high for long and suggests that forest fragmentation will continue to whittle away at the existing population much like the pattern seen in golden lion tamarins (L. rosalia) (Oliver & Santos 1991; Rylands 1993-1994; de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997). Actions must be taken immediately to stop habitat destruction and begin to reconnect patches of forest that still harbor golden-headed lion tamarins (Oliver & Santos; de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997).
The only significant protected area in which golden-headed lion tamarins are found is Una Biological Reserve, a 94 km² (36.3 mi²) park created specifically for their protection in 1980. Though the original governmental decree was for an area of 114 km² (44.0 mi²), this amount of land was not purchased immediately and for the last 25 years, the park has been growing incrementally as the government continues to acquire land (de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997; Cruz pers. comm.). Forests surrounding Una are still relatively intact and it should be a priority to purchase them and integrate them into the biological reserve because, as it exists now, Una is not large enough to support a self-sustaining population of golden-headed lion tamarins (Rylands 1993-1994; de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997). If purchase and integration is not possible, it will be essential to work with land owners to persuade them to initiate tamarin-friendly land use patterns. Existing programs to educate private land owners in the areas around the reserve should continue while corridors should be grown connecting remaining old growth forests on private lands with Una forests. (de S. Pinto & Rylands 1997; Mallinson 2001). The Landowners’ Environmental Education Programme began in the early 1990s and focused on educating the community surrounding the reserve about the importance of protecting not only the reserve itself but contiguous forests. On over 70% of the farms in the area, conservation activities have been undertaken including sustainable agricultural practices that focus on preserving forests and golden-headed lion tamarin habitat (Mallinson 2001). School children, farm workers, hunters, and forest guards have been involved in the education program focusing on conservation, property rights, and land use as well as developing alternative sustainable economic undertakings (Mallinson 2001). As land is purchased for more forest reserves or protected areas in areas other than Una, programs like this should certainly be part of the transition from private to reserve land so that communities neighboring new reserves understand the importance of their actions on the golden-headed lion tamarin’s habitat and ultimate survival.
Research on the use of cabruca by golden-headed lion tamarins indicates that they will use this forest type more frequently than secondary forests as there are higher abundances of fruit, flowers, animal prey, and sleeping sites in cocoa plantations than in degraded, successional ecosystems (Raboy et al. 2004). Farmers that maintain cabruca with primary forest as the shade source rather than converting their land to a monoculture system provide better habitat for golden-headed lion tamarins. A reasonable compromise between farmers and conserving habitat might include economic incentives in order to maintain this system as opposed to logging the primary forest and converting the land to cattle ranching, in which no available habitat is left for the tamarins. Alternative economic opportunities in and around Una involve the establishment of an ecotourism facility. Trails, a canopy walkway, and a visitors’ education center have all been built for tourists to enjoy Una and the unique flora and fauna found there (Mallinson 2001). Responsible expansion of this program and stronger marketing both within Brazil and abroad might make it a more profitable venture for community members.
Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)
In the early 1980s, large numbers of golden-headed lion tamarins were illegally exported from Brazil to countries like Belgium, France, French Guiana, and Japan in order to supply the booming pet trade and exotic animal collectors (Mallinson 2001; Rylands et al. 2002a; b). The Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA concentrated efforts on recovery of illegally exported tamarins and, in 1986, was able to begin a captive breeding colony with seized animals (Mallinson 2001). The large numbers of recovered animals helped establish a genetically diverse founder population from which to begin captive breeding programs in Brazil, Europe, Japan, and the United States (Ballou et al. 2002). Seizures of golden-headed lion tamarins continue today, though not nearly at as high of a rate as was seen in the 1980s. The international demand for these animals as pets still exists, and though it is not nearly as high, coupled with the other threats to the population, it may affect the future potential of the population to survive.
Generally hunters in this region are either leisure hunters or subsistence hunters and though golden-headed lion tamarins are seldom hunted for food, there are a few reports that hunters kill and eat them (Oliver & Santos 1991; dos Santos & Blanes 1997).
Administrators of Una Biological Reserve continue to confiscate illegally kept golden-headed lion tamarins and, in 1999, the captive population was over 600 individuals (Ballou et al. 2002). One effort to decrease the number of animals taken as pets or killed for food is education. When poachers or hunters are encountered, they receive information about the importance of conservation and the Brazilian laws that forbid the activity (Padua et al. 2002). This simple message has been successful in decreasing hunting rates by 50% according to IBAMA (dos Santos & Blanes 1997; Padua et al. 2002). Not only are hunters directly confronted if caught, education programs for all land owners and community members have been aimed at educating people about the endemism present in nearby the forests (dos Santos & Blanes 1997). Armed with information about conservation of their unique surroundings, community members begin to see golden-headed lion tamarins not as food or a potential source of income, but as an important part of the ecosystem and part of the local heritage.
Threat: Accidental Mortality
There is scant data available on accidental mortality but there have been some unpublished reports of golden-headed lion tamarins getting caught in snare traps set for other animals and accidentally being killed (Oliver & Santos 1991).
Threat: Natural Disasters
In the eastern half of their range, golden-headed lion tamarin habitat is characterized by wet conditions throughout the year, but in 1995, a severe drought occurred and resulted in a serious wildfire that threatened Una Biological Reserve (Anonymous 1995). The fire was started when neighboring farmers lost control of a fire they started to help clear their fields, a common technique used in South America to clear land of growth and add nutrients to the soil before planting crops.
The Landowners’ Environmental Education Programme needs to incorporate information about burning fields and the potential harm that can be done to neighboring forests, especially under certain environmental conditions. While the newly established buffer zone between the reserve and other lands might decrease the chance of a fire spreading too quickly to the center of the reserve, in some situations, Una, and the golden-headed lion tamarins that live there, might be subject to serious natural disasters.
Threat: Intrinsic Factors
The limited data available on fecundity and mortality in golden-headed lion tamarins suggests that the population grows more slowly and is subject to higher levels of predation compared to golden lion tamarins (L. rosalia) (Dietz 1997). Wild golden-headed lion tamarins have never been seen producing more than one litter per year, so population growth is relatively slow. Furthermore, disappearance rates are high within the population at Una Biological Reserve and may be attributed to density of predators. Mammalian and avian predators are a threat to these small animals, and when forest conditions are right, the predator population can thrive and have a negative effect on golden-headed lion tamarins (Dietz 1997). Unidentified disease is another contributor to mortality at Una. Certain illnesses can sweep through a group and kill all of the members within a few days (Dietz 1997).
The nature of habitat fragmentation throughout the golden-headed lion tamarin’s range will probably lead to problems associated with inbreeding including inbreeding depression, genetic drift, lack of genetic diversity, and lower recruitment rates. The total population at Una is estimated to be between 240 and 460 individuals. Though there is a wide discrepancy between estimates, the population is still thought to be less than the 500 breeding individuals necessary to maintain genetic diversity over the long term (Dietz et al. 1996). Additionally, the population at Una represents the largest population in the most intact forest in the entire range of the golden-headed lion tamarin, so it is clear that other subpopulations are subject to loss of genetic diversity over time.
Having a healthy predator population within Una is essential for the functioning of the ecosystem, but other efforts to decrease golden-headed lion tamarin mortality have been undertaken. Current studies require that habituated animals be captured every six months to replace radio transmitter batteries. At this semiannual event, veterinary care is provided for the animals as a routine way to check their health and evaluate any concerns (Dietz et al. 1996). By monitoring the health of the animals over time, changes can be noted and care can be provided in certain circumstances. Monitoring and attempting to provide care for sick tamarins is an expensive and relatively futile process compared to eliminating sources of inbreeding depression that might cause certain individuals to be at higher risk for health problems. It is essential that Una does not become an island of forest, cutting off dispersing golden-headed lion tamarins from entering new territories, starting new groups, or immigrating into the breeding position of existing groups. Efforts to connect patches of forest throughout the range will increase the likelihood of gene flow in the population and will help to decrease the chances of the loss of genetic diversity (Dietz et al. 1996). Currently, studies to evaluate and prioritze areas for forest linkage are underway and will hopefully lead to management strategies and eventual reconnection of forest fragments (Raboy pers. comm.).
Threat: Human Disturbance
Following the drop in cocoa prices and the spread of witch’s broom disease, unemployment rates soared in the region surrounding Una Biological Reserve. Displaced workers swarmed to the forests, both protected and unprotected, clearing the land for subsistence agriculture because of their lack of economic prospects (Padua et al. 2002). Additionally, cocoa plantation owners began to cut the primary forests of the cabruca and sell the lumber to supplement income. This resulted in an increased rate of forest fragmentation both within Una and in the surrounding areas and directly impacting the golden-headed lion tamarin (Padua et al. 2002).
Economic opportunity that does not involve resource extraction and deforestation of Una needs to be created or sustainable use of resources needs to be highlighted in education programs for community members. One solution that has been implemented is the establishment of a buffer zone surrounding the reserve. This 10 km (6.21 mi)-wide strip of vegetation borders the perimeter of the reserve and serves to protect the inner park from invasion of squatters, hunters and poachers through environmental education, agricultural outreach, and studies of land use in the region (Mallinson 2001; Raboy pers. comm.).
LINKS TO MORE ABOUT CONSERVATION
- Invasive primates threaten Atlantic Forest natives (Mongabay; March 19, 2012)
- Brazilian rare tamarins arrive at Birmingham Nature Centre (BBC News; June 28, 2011)
- Links for all species
Content last modified: July 20, 2005
Cite this page as:
Cawthon Lang KA. 2005 July 20. Primate Factsheets: Golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas) Conservation. Accessed 2020 July 23.
The following references were used in the writing of this factsheet. To find current references for Leontopithecus chrysomelas, search PrimateLit.
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Ballou JD, Kleiman DG, Mallinson JJC, Rylands AB, Valladares-Padua CB, Leus K. 2002. History, management, and conservation role of the captive lion tamarin populations. In: Kleiman DG, Rylands AB, editors. Lion tamarins: biology and conservation. Washington DC: Smithsonian Inst Pr. p 95-114.
Boinski S, Moraes E, Kleiman DG, Dietz JM, Baker AJ. 1994. Intra-group vocal behaviour in wild golden lion tamarins, Leontopithecus rosalia: honest communication of individual activity. Behaviour 130(1-2): 53-75.
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