Endangered Species Success Story: Brazil’s Golden Monkey

The vast Amazon rainforest is the South American tropical ecosystem most people are familiar with, and which many conservationists are most concerned about, because of logging and land clearing for agricultural purposes. But the region contains other ecosystems as well, including ones that are even more fragile and more threatened by human activity. One of these is Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest, which, unlike that country’s huge portion of the Amazon, has always suffered from being close to the major population centers of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo.

In fact, only seven percent of the original Atlantic rainforest remains, the rest having been cut down for timber and cleared for farms. Of that remnant seven percent, most is divided among scattered islands of native trees and other growth, a situation that creates great difficulties for wildlife that needs expanses of unbroken forest in which to forage for food. In the 1980s, an appealing little marmoset known as the golden lion tamarin that lived in the Atlantic rainforest almost went extinct because of this destruction and fragmentation of its habitat: Only around 200 of these monkeys remained on about two percent of the species’ original habitat.

Fortunately, the Brazilian government and international conservationists undertook a serious, two-pronged effort to save the golden lion tamarin. In Brazil, steps were finally taken not only to preserve the remaining vestige of Atlantic rainforest, but also to link the remaining fragments with corridors of new tree growth so that tamarins and other wildlife could travel among them. In addition, 140 zoos worldwide participated in a captive breeding program for golden lion tamarins.

Today, there are around 1,000 golden lion tamarins in the wild, most of them living in the Poco das Antas Biological Reserve about 50 miles from Rio de Janeiro. Preserving their rare habitat—one of the most endangered ecosystems on earth—continues to be both a goal and challenge for conservationists. Photo Credit: Lishears

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