Endemic to the Brazilian forest, the golden lion tamarin is one of the world’s most charismatic primates. Unfortunately, the spectacular monkey is also one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. Thanks to years of persevering conservation efforts, however, the species may get back on their feet.
The endangered New World monkey lives only in Brazil’s Atlantic coastal forest which has been gradually disappearing over the last decades due to ever-expanding logging, agriculture, and industry. By the 1970s, these events, along with hundreds of years of pet trading, have brought the population number of tamarins down to only 200.
In 1992, the Golden Lion Tamarin Association was founded in Brazil. In concert with international conservation groups and supported by a dedicated US charity, Save the Golden Lion Tamarin, the group began to buy up land to create connected conservation areas.
The population had reached 3,700 in the wild, but suffered its first population decline last year, when yellow fever killed hundreds of the tiny monkeys.
Today there are about 2,500 tamarins living in about five million acres of forests, most of which are disconnected from each other thus preventing the primates’ numbers to rebound back successfully. In 2018, the largest block of connected land was less than 70,000 acres with less than 300 animals.
One challenge to getting the areas connected was the widening of a major coastal highway, BR-101, which cuts through large chunks of Atlantic forest. The improvement of the highway created a barrier that isolated several forest areas and their more than 700 tamarins from three other large forest fragments.
After negotiations and lawsuits, the conservationists managed to get the construction company to agree to build and pay for a forested overpass for animals, the first in Brazil, with a tunnel and forest canopy connections, to enable the tamarins and other animals to pass from one side to the other. The green overpass, forested with native trees is now nearing completion and should be done this year.