A pair of newborn cotton-top tamarin monkeys are the newest residents of The Green Planet. The twins, which weigh less than 0.5 kilos, join the sloths, Fluffy the bearcat and the UAE's first tamandua anteater, alongside more than 3,000 flora and fauna, at Dubai’s family-friendly indoor rainforest.
Usually found in the north-west of Colombia, cotton-top tamarins, also known by their scientific name of Saguinus oedipus, are a critically endangered species. They’re known to be the cutest monkeys in South America, but also the most endangered primates in the world. This is due mostly to deforestation and human activity; it’s estimated that only 5 per cent of their geographic range remains in the wild. They are also sold illegally as pets.
To attempt to rectify this, The Green Planet has entered a conservation breeding programme to ensure genetic diversity within the species, according to a statement from the facility.
“Cotton-top tamarins historically play an important role in seed dispersal and fertilisation within the rainforest, making them a vital part of the rainforest ecosystem,” explains Victoria Lynn, general manager of attractions, leisure and entertainment at parent company Dubai Holding.
“However, in the early 1960s and 70s, cotton-top tamarins were often exported in their thousands to the US for medical testing related to colon cancer treatment. Along with this, deforestation and human activity have unfortunately meant that their population has rapidly declined in the wild.”
It is now illegal to import these animals into the US, but they are still used for medical research, and captive tamarins are more numerous than those in the wild, according to National Geographic.
“Through our conservation breeding programme, like many around the world, we hope that we can help support in rebuilding a healthy population of the species,” says Lynn.
The omnivorous mammals, which are generally about 20 to 25 centimetres long, are named after their distinctive white hair, which encircles their head, chest and bellies, and puffs up whenever the creature is shocked or excited. Their backs and tails are covered in black and brown fur.
They’re one of three Amazonian species of tamarin, and known for collective parenting in the wild, meaning mother and father, as well as the entire community, get involved in child-rearing. It’s common for them to be born as twins, and the males often carry the young to allow females to forage for food or produce milk for their babies.
The twins’ first-time parents are also living at The Green Planet and, according to the conservation team, the success rate among the species of raising twins on first-time reproduction is low. “With that said, the team is cautiously optimistic that they will continue to thrive and are ready to step in if the new parents need any extra support,” reads a statement.