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Published On: 18 Jun 2018

The Cotton-top Tamarin happens to be so-named by its distinctive fluffy white crest that takes many of us back to the 80s. These pint-sized monkeys bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain theoretical physicist — and they’re among the newest residents to grace the Sanctuary grounds in the all-new ‘Lost Valley’ precinct.



So, without further ado, let us introduce you to these curious little primates and help you gain some insight into their fascinating world. Here are 10 interesting facts about Cotton-top Tamarins:

1. They belong to the group of ‘New World’ monkeys

Cotton-top Tamarins are classified as a ‘New World’ species of monkey, who made their way across the ocean some 30 million years ago. They’re generally smaller in size and can only be found in the tropical forest environments from southern Mexico to South America. New World monkeys spend most of their time in the upper branches of the tropics, feeding on fruit, insects and gums.

2. Their hair stands on end when they get excited

Tamarins are no doubt ‘tressed to impress’. When they’re alarmed or excited, their voluminous plume of white fur becomes raised in a effort to make themselves look bigger and more impressive. Their punk-rocker ‘do’ flows from all the way from their crown, down to their shoulders—and they take their grooming very seriously.

3. They have a vocal repertoire of 38 distinct sounds


Cotton-top Tamarins are highly vocal animals, using a variety of bird-like chirps, high pitch trilling, and staccato calls - some of which are too high-pitched to be heard by a human ear. These grammatically-structured calls consist of signals to family members, warnings against potential predators—and even conversations about food (Tamarins, we hear you loud and clear)!

4. Males and females share parental duties

In fact, all group members will chip in to help raise the young. This kind of co-operative care is essential to the development and survival of Tamarin babies, as their maternal nature isn’t so much an instinct as it is learnt. The mother will serve as the primary carrier for the first week of a young Tamarin’s life, while the father helps to raise them when they become more independent—and they develop quite rapidly.

5. Only the dominant male and female will reproduce

Cotton-top Tamarins live in family groups and at the core of the group is a dominant male and female who are the only members to breed. The other adults in the group are reproductively suppressed which helps prevent any inbreeding.

6. They’re important seed dispersers

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Within their prized tropical ecosystem, Cotton-top Tamarins enjoy a variety of sweet and delicious tropical fruit—and therein lies the key to the survival for Colombia’s tropical dry forests. Due to the extreme loss of habitat—there are as little as 1,000 Cotton-top Tamarins left in the wild. And without their distribution of seeds in their, well, faeces—their environment would be at an even greater risk.

7. They use a sophisticated system to defend their territory

Female Tamarins will apply their scent-marking tactics to ward off any intruders, while males will often resort to  ----   vocal threats, physical aggression, raising their hair and even sticking out their tongue. They’ll also use their implicit communication skills to ensure all members of the troop are in the know.

8. They sure love to socialise

As punk-rocker as they may appear, and as territorial as they become when threatened by outsiders, these little monkeys are actually quite friendly for the most part—living in groups of up to 13 individual Tamarins. They often groom one another, running their claws through each other’s fur, and using their teeth, lips and tongue to pick off anything in their fur.

9. Tamarins mostly give birth to twins

Cotton Top Tamarin Encounter Twins.jpg

That’s right—two’s a charm in the world of Cotton-top Tamarins.

10. The Cotton-top Tamarin is listed as ‘critically endangered’

There are only two remaining fragments of Cotton-top Tamarin habitat left in Columbia—and these forests are fundamental to the long-term survival of Tamarins due to their rich resources. Colombia's Caribbean coast is the only place on earth where you’ll find Cotton-top Tamarins.

Cotton-top Tamarins are extremely susceptible to the changes in their environment—and sadly, human encroachment has had a lot to do with their dwindling numbers. Habitat loss due to logging for agriculture, paper and timber is the main reason these tiny monkeys are so threatened. But they’re also captured as part of the illegal pet trade. And when a Cotton-top Tamarin is purchased as an exotic pet, the entire family is affected, and hunters will often kill the parents in order to capture a baby.

There’s a lot that can be done to help save the Cotton-top Tamarin from the brink of extinction. It all starts with bringing the attention of the public towards the issues that are contributing to these small monkeys becoming closer to extinction.


You can feed the Cotton-top Tamarins of Lost Valley 


Meet the troop of inquisitive and adorable Cotton-top Tamarins, and get up close and personal with them when you enter their exhibit with the Keeper. Witness the antics of Mitu, Toro, Arami and Pablo as you help feed, learn interesting facts and watch these amazing monkeys play.