Building New Homes for Wild Tamarins
Hi there, I’m Judith. If you’re reading this, you’re about to discover what great opportunities students can have at an organisation like Durrell! First of all, a little bit about me. I’m a 25-year-old student at the University of Applied Sciences Van Hall Larenstein in the Netherlands. I’m studying Animal Management, majoring in Wildlife Management with a personal interest in ex-situ conservation.
But what has that got to do with Durrell? Let me explain. For me, it all started last year in May. Since then, I have been participating in work experience at Durrell and have taken part in several different projects involving tamarins, bats and lemurs whilst working in the Mammal Department. I have also been working on EAZA best practice guideline videos and statistical analyses of cortisol levels in captive pied tamarins. In addition, I’m working on a nest box design for black lion tamarins in the wild. I’ll tell you a bit more about this as it’s a project I feel passionately about.
In the wild, black lion tamarins occur in a couple of small, defragmented forests close to São Paulo. Most of the populations living in these forest patches are not considered to be viable due to loss of genetic diversity, inbreeding and other problems that small populations suffer from. To prevent this species from going extinct, Durrell and IPÊ set up a conservation action plan to grow tree corridors between these small forest patches. If you live in Jersey, you will probably have heard of the Cans for Corridors project. The tree corridors were planted about 10 years ago and after evaluation, it is now known that they can provide the necessary food resources that tamarins need. Sadly, black lion tamarins are not using the tree corridors yet. Why is that? Well, considering the forests are only 10 years old and tamarins sleep in dead hollow trees or tree cavities, it is expected that the lack of sleeping sites is the main problem. Waiting for these natural sleeping sites to form will take a very long time. This is why Durrell and IPÊ have started to think about creating artificial sleeping sites to speed up this process.
During my placement at Durrell, the Head of Mammal Department Dominic Wormell asked me if I would be interested in thinking about a design and of course I was! It was such a great opportunity to actually do something that can make a big difference for a Critically Endangered species. So that’s how it all started. I came up with a design together with one of the keepers and we built the prototype. However, designing the nest box was just the first step. How could we know if this design was suitable for tamarins? They may not even like it and how could we know if it was safe from predators? Well that was something we needed to test. Luckily, I still had a dissertation project to complete for university so I decided to research nest box preferences and predator resistance.
Right now, over a year after my arrival in Jersey, I am collecting data for this study. I needed to provide about 20 boxes for all 7 groups of pied tamarins at Jersey Zoo. Some groups also included golden lion tamarins, coatis and black crested macaques. All tamarin groups have access to 2 boxes in their indoor enclosure. From the outside, the boxes might look the same, but on the inside they are very different! They all have access to one empty box, like they are used to. The other box has a special feature which is part of my design. These features include entrance tunnels (to keep the predators out), multiple entrance points (to give the tamarins an opportunity to flee when a predator approaches the box) and a shelf (to create different compartments). Putting up cameras every evening allows us to see how much time the tamarins spend around the different boxes. Based on this information, a conclusion can be drawn about the tamarins’ preferences about these different features. I have even been trying to teach the tamarins how to turn the cameras on and off. To test if the nest boxes are predator-proof, we placed them in the macaque and coati enclosures. Each day we put a treat inside the box and recorded how long it took them to reach it. This was done with a number of nest box designs to show what the effects of the different features were.
We are starting to see some of the results, which is very satisfying! It seems that the tamarins really like the new nest boxes and so far the macaques haven’t managed to destroy them (even though they tried very hard!). The most surprising result came from the coatis. As soon as we placed the box into the enclosure, we saw that the coatis were actually capable of getting into it (up to their chest!) through a 10cm square pipe hole! This kind of information is very important when creating a final design and I really hope that once all research has been carried out, we can create a safe and suitable sleeping site for black lion tamarins. This is essential in order to increase their chance of survival in the wild. In the future, I hope to visit Brazil and see these wonderful creatures in the wild (using my nest boxes). For now, I’m very grateful that I have had the opportunity to take part in this research and for all the guidance the staff at Durrell has given me. Without them, I probably would not have accomplished this research!
Posted 24 July 2017