The white-footed tamarin (sometimes also called the white-handed tamarin) is found only in Colombia. With their habitat disappearing, and large numbers taken from the wild for the pet trade, these little monkeys are now thought to be Critically Endangered.
For many years, Durrell successfully bred its close relative the cotton-top tamarin, also endemic to Colombia, alongside many other members of this family of tiny South American monkeys. Cotton-tops, although still Critically Endangered in the wild, are well established in captivity and we are now focusing our expertise on other species.
The white-footed tamarin is now benefiting from this experience. Durrell staff are closely involved with a consortium of member institutions of EAZA (the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) and conservation organisations in Colombia to try and save the white-handed tamarin. Our experts have given lectures at workshops in the country, and provided enclosure designs and management protocols, resulting in improved breeding success and an increase in infant survival. Previously, the maximum age reached by captive white-handed tamarins in Colombia was only three years, although tamarins often live into their twenties in captivity.
At present, Colombia’s strict laws do not allow any tamarins to leave the country until a second generation has been born in captivity. Hopefully that day is now much closer, and tamarins now languishing in poor conditions in rescue centres could come to Durrell and other institutions to set up an ex-situ captive breeding programme, increasing our knowledge of how to manage the species and providing a safety net should conservation efforts not go well back home.