Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer

Frequently Searched Terms

golden lion tamarin

Golden Lion Tamarin

Golden Lion Tamarin

Leontopithecus rosalia

Philadelphia Zoo staff has been involved in studying and protecting the golden lion tamarin (GLT) in Brazil for twenty years, as part of a conservation program spearheaded by the National Zoo. In 1972, the National Zoo brought together scientists from all over the world to a conference on how to save the golden lion tamarin. Since then, over 140 zoos captively breed this animal and about one third of the 2,500 that live in the wild are from captive breeding programs. At one point, the estimated population in the wild had reached only a sparse 200 individuals. However, thanks to captive breeding programs they have been upgraded from critically endangered to endangered. They are on the path to recovery, but unfortunately their remaining habitat is heavily fragmented and cannot support large groups of these animals since their groups usually have a range of 100 acres. To learn more about the Zoo’s GLT conservation efforts, click here.

What are they like?

Physical Description: Golden lion tamarins are the biggest of the Callitrichidae family (marmosets and tamarins); they are about the size of a squirrel. Tamarins of the opposite sex look very similar; however, the male is slightly heavier than the female. Their fur ranges from a pale gold to a rich reddish-gold with black spots throughout the body, tail, and feet. They have a very distinctive mane around their head and ears, from which they get their name.

Life Span: In the wild, golden lions tamarins can live up to 17 years and average 8 years. In zoos, they can live for more than 20 years.

Diet: In the wild, fruit and insects are a major part of their diet. At Philly Zoo, our golden lion tamarins eat a formulated marmoset diet, crickets, mealworms, and a variety of fruit.

Social Structure: An adult pair and their young from recent litters often form the family group, which can include up to 12-14 individuals. However, many groups contain two adult males, both of which may breed with the reproductive female. A few groups contain two breeding females.

Habitat: Golden lion tamarins live in the humid rainforests of Southeastern Brazil. At the Zoo, their habitats include lots of tree branches, ropes for climbing, and nest boxes for hiding inside.

Did you know?

  • Unlike other primates, golden lion tamarins' fingernails have evolved into sharp claws which help them climb trees, even vertically.
  • Golden lion tamarin groups are very territorial; when neighboring groups meet, they face off, calling loudly and chasing each other, but actual fights or injuries are rare. Their average territory is 100 acres.
  • GLTs have long, narrow hands and long fingers, which they use to probe for insects and other small animals in places their prey might be hiding—like under tree bark or inside a curled dried leaf. A favorite place to find insect prey is between the leaves of epiphytic bromeliads.