Saving Endangered Primates: How YOU are Helping the Cotton-top Tamarin

With their outrageous hairdos, there’s no question that in the primate kingdom the cotton-top tamarins are punk rock royalty. If you need more proof, just check out their scientific name Saguinus oedipus…it doesn’t get more hard core than that! If you’ve had a chance to visit these guys on a past visit to the Zoo, you’ll know that despite their large personalities they’re actually quite small – if it weren’t for their hair, you might mistake them for a squirrel. So how is it that such a small primate has earned itself a large enough reputation to have August 15th declared as Day of the Cotton-Top Tamarin?

Because they need our help. Cotton-top tamarins are one of the most endangered primates in the world due to deforestation and the pet trade. Luckily, our partners at Proyecto Tití in Colombia are working hard to make sure that this unique species can thrive in the wild for years to come. Proyecto Tití is committed to working with local communities to develop economic alternatives that assist in the protection of Colombia’s natural environment.  Some of their strategies to achieve this goal are as unique as the tamarin itself. Local women learn how to transform discarded plastic bags into colorfully designed, hand-knit mochilas (tote bags), which are then sold in an effort to support the community that is protecting cotton-top tamarins. Discarded plastic is also recycled and used to create fence posts farmers can use on their property. These fence posts last longer than wooden posts, and they reduce the need for wood to be harvested from the forests. More trees = more habitat for the tamarins!

There are plenty of reasons to love cotton-top tamarins, and as a result many end up in the illegal pet trade, eventually winding up in people’s homes. In many Colombian communities there is no distinction made between domestic and exotic wildlife, and many individuals do not understand how keeping a primate as a pet can be extremely harmful to the survival of the species. In 2017, the Houston Zoo supported 1,800 students that live around wild cotton-tops in Colombia to participate in education programs that focused on reducing the desire to keep cotton-top tamarins as pets. Students got to visit the forest and see cotton-top tamarins in their natural habitat. Proyecto Tití is working to reduce the number of native wildlife that are kept as pets in rural communities by encouraging families to adopt dogs and cats instead of cotton-top tamarins! By offering veterinary care and training classes, the team is helping communities bond with domestic animals reducing their desire to have wildlife as pets.

Our partners know better than anyone that there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to saving wildlife, and saving a unique species often requires unique solutions. We are inspired by the creative minds that are hard at work protecting the cotton-top tamarin, and thankful to each and every one of you that help save this species by purchasing a ticket to the Zoo.



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