Melbourne Zoo

Cotton-top Tamarin

Likened to a tiny punk because of their distinctive ‘hairstyles’, this little creature is in seriously trouble in the wild.

Cotton-top Tamarins are classed as ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’), with numbers in the wild decreasing. There are estimated to be about 6,000 individuals remaining, including only 300 to 1,000 in the wild. More are thought to be in captivity than in the wild. Thousands were trapped and exported to the US in the 1960s and 70s for medical research, which drastically reduced the wild population. In the wild, threats include loss of habitat from logging, natural disasters such as drought, and predators such as snakes and cats. In Colombia, the species is protected and export is banned.

Your visit helps to fight species extinction. Visiting the tamarins at Melbourne Zoo is an opportunity not only to meet these endearing creatures, but also to learn about the threats to many species, what the international community is doing to try to conserve this species, and how Zoos Victoria is contributing to the fight. 

Cotton-top Tamarins are found in northwest Colombia. They prefer forest habitats and move through the forest canopy in search of food, although they will sometimes forage on the ground.

They eat insects, sap, fruit and nectar, but are believed to sometimes also eat reptiles.

Cotton-top Tamarins are small, and have black faces with a ‘bridal veil’ of long white hair. The fur on their backs is brown and underneath it is white.

Cotton-top Tamarins grow to about 30cm and weigh up to half a kilo. They live for about 13 years.

They sleep in a group of up to 13 individuals, but sometimes as few as two. These are generally friendly groups who love to groom each other, although there can be disputes over territory. They will band together to deter or frighten potential predators away.

Females bear one or two young. Adult individuals work together to help to rear tamarin young, sharing the feeding and carrying of the young.