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Black-Faced Lion Tamarin

Leontopithecus caissara

Black-Faced Lion TamarinThe Species and its Habitat

The Black-Faced Lion Tamarin is certainly the rarest and possibly the most endangered of the South American primates. The species was only discovered in early 1990 at the Superagui National Park, Parana State, Brazil. Initial surveys and census indicate that the distribution of the species is very restricted, totalling approximately 300km2 and divided between the Island of Superagui and adjacent parts of the continent in the States of Parana and Sao Paulo. Based on these findings, the wild population has been estimated at less than 300 individuals, most of which inhabit the Supergui National Park.

Black-Faced Lion Tamarins live in family groups. The mothers usually giving birth to twins, which stay with the family for a long time. These older twins in turn help their parents look after their new offspring. They usually feed on small fruits, insects and have been known to take small lizards and snakes as well.

Unlike other primates, they use in old trees with holes and they enter these holes with their entire families every evening. However, they try to vary their sleeping spots so as to reduce the chances of predation.

Only seven per cent remains of the Black-Faced Lion Tamarin's forests that once covered more than 1.2 million square km of eastern and southern Brazil. The destruction is very recent: in 1900, 70% of the forests were intact, by 1950 they were reduced to 29% and by 1973 only 8% survived. As one of the last mammal species to be discovered during the 20th century, there are estimated to be only 300 Black-Faced Lion Tamarin in existence. Biodiversity is so important to our future that scientists are already classifying it as one of our greatest common assets.

Dr Claudio PaduaProject Leader: Dr Claudio Padua

Black-Faced Lion TamarinMy love of nature grew because of holidays I used to spend at my grandparents' farm in the state of Minas Gerais when I was a child. I used to spend my days walking through the forest and fields, dreaming of adventures in the Amazon or the African Savannahs. As I grew, I left behind my dreams of nature and concentrated on gaining a career that would support my family. So I studied business and graduated in 1974. I was quite successful in this field, but by 1977 I realised I had taken the wrong direction in my life - 'jornada da minha vida'. I realised that conservation was more important to me than making money. I went back to school and in 1981 I graduated with a B. Sc. in Biology, and by 1992 I had obtained my Ph.D.

One of the most serious challenges facing conservation in Brazil is the lack of trained professionals. The need for training as well as the expansion of the conservation work my colleagues and I were conducting, led me to establish the Institute for Ecological Research (IPE) in 1992. The Institute has enabled us to expand our work with the Black-Faced Lion Tamarins to many other areas such as education, public awareness campaigns, policy, and integrated planning for different projects in many regions of the country. Even with IPE however, there has been a need for more training. For this reason I have launched a new institution, the Brazilian Centre for Conservation Biology.

The Black-Faced Lion Tamarin Conservation Project, Brazil

Black-Faced Lion TamarinIn 1990, we realised that a long-term systematic study on the ecology and behaviour of the Black-Faced Lion Tamarin had to be carried out. This study was conducted over two years with the objective of collecting data on the diet, use of time and space, and social behaviour of at least two different groups of Black-Faced Lion Tamarin in the wild. The information gathered through this study, added to prior information on the distribution and status of the Black-Faced Lion Tamarin, will enable us to draw sound conservation plans for habitat protection, education and population conservation management (captive breeding/reintroduction, translocations and metapopulation plans). Therefore, this study represents a critical step toward a broader conservation plan for the Black-Faced Lion Tamarin.

To aid us in saving the Black-Faced Lion Tamarin and its habitat, it is vital to have the support of the local population and landowners. To this end we are turning the Black-Faced Lion Tamarin into a Conservation Symbol in order to raise local peoples' pride in being custodians of the forests that this primate inhabits. In this process, other species and habitats that do not receive so much attention should benefit.

The Black-Faced Lion Tamarin project is an important conservation goal as it gathers information on one of the rarest and most endangered species of primates in the world, implements awareness and education programmes and trains professionals in the process. We believe that the outcomes of our research will be decisive in contributing to the continued existence of this endangered primate.

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