Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cotton-top Tamarin

The cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) is a small species of primate found only in a small part of South America.  It is rated as "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN.  It is a popular exhibit in zoos all around the world.

Physical Features
The cotton-top tamarin is an unmistakable species.  It gets its name from the elegant, long, white flowing fur on its head.  They generally weigh only about 420-450 grams. Their body length can be about 20-25 cm long while their tail can be about 35-40 cm long. Their tail is not prehensile i.e. it has not adapted to hold or manipulate objects. Males and females are generally same in size.  Their face is generally black or gray in color with very fine white hair which is barely visible.  Their back (dorsal side) is covered with brown fur while their front (ventral side) is covered with white or yellowish white fur.  Their tail is also covered in brown fur.  Unlike other monkeys, the cotton-top tamarin's thumbs are not opposable.

Cotton top tamarin feeding on some dry fruits.
Cotton-top tamarins are omnivorous.  They equally depend on plant material and animal material.  They consume organisms that are smaller than them like small lizards, amphibians and insects. Insects are a main constituents of their diet.  Plant material consists of fruits, flowers, nectar, seeds and plant sap.  They require very nutritious and high energy foods due to their small size and high food intake.  

Distribution and Habitat
The range of cotton-top tamarins are limited to the north-western side of Colombia, between the rivers Atrato,  Cauca and Magdalena.  Even in this region, their habitat is fragmented. They live in both tropical humid forests as well as tropical deciduous forests, primary as well as secondary forests.  They prefer to live in the lower levels of forests but may descend to the ground in search of food or ascend tall trees for protection or food.  They sleep in foliage cover.

Cotton-top tamarins are diurnal.  They either live in pairs but more often live in groups. They spend the days foraging and grooming.  They are very social animals and each group may consist 5-15 members.  They follow a matriarchal system i.e. the leader of a group is the eldest female.  Cotton-top tamarins groups follow a "helper" system where males and older siblings take care of the young and newly born for sometime.

Life Cycle and Breeding
Infants along with parent.
In a group of 10-15 individuals normally only one male-female pairs breed.  It is very often for twins to be born.  The breeding season is between the months of April and July.  A female cotton-top tamarin gives birth to a single offspring or twins after a gestation period of 4-5 months.  Males take care and groom the infants more than the female.  Cotton-top tamarins are known to live in captivity for 20 years while in wild, they often live for about 13 to 14 years.

Conservation Status   
The cotton-top tamarin is rated as "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN.  There are approximately 6,000 individuals remaining.  Illegal pet trade and habitat fragmentation is the main cause of population decline.  It is said that between the 1960's and 1970's about 30,000 individuals were exported to the United Sates for bio-medical research.  The population is decreasing.  It was one of the most endangered species of primate in the world between 2008-2011.  It is protected by the law.  The Paramillo National Park is one of the most important stretch of forest for this species and comprises of 1800 square miles.  There are enough number of individuals in captivity for the sustenance of this species.  It is said that their are more captive individuals than wild ones.

Source of pic 2, pic 3 

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