Park News

Cotton-top Tamarin baby yawning

This Father’s Day Cotswold Wildlife Park is delighted to announce the birth of Critically Endangered Cotton-top Tamarins twins and celebrate one of the most devoted dads in the animal kingdom.

June 2023

Human dads receive plenty of recognition on Father’s Day, celebrated this year on Sunday June 18, but the animal kingdom also has its share of committed fathers. While many males play a role in the rearing of their young, Cotton-top Tamarin fathers go above and beyond when it comes to raising their offspring.

Cotton-top Tamarin twin pictured on Dad Johnny's Back

The Park’s Cotton-top Tamarin male, Johnny, is a perfect example. He recently became a new father when his breeding partner, Trillian, gave birth to twins. The as-yet-unsexed newborns are on show in their enclosure opposite the Lemur exhibit Madagascar where they can usually be seen hitching a ride on the back of a parent who visitors mistakenly think is their mother. When keepers point out that it’s actually the father carrying the babies on his back (pictured above and below), their reaction is one of great surprise!

Cotton-top Tamarin twin pictured on Dad Johnny's Back

In the animal kingdom, the level of parental care varies greatly from species to species. Female Cotton-top Tamarins are rarely the sole caretakers of their offspring given the extraordinary energetic demands placed on them. Each member of the family plays a specific role when it comes to rearing the young. After giving birth, the female will carry her infants for just 1-2 weeks before allowing the male to take over the task almost entirely. During this time, he will only pass the infants back to their mother to suckle. Scientists have determined that the father actually puts on weight when the female is pregnant because he shares so many of the rearing responsibilities. Adult males tend to carry the infants longer and more frequently during the first month of life than any other group members. In studies, males accounted for 70% of infant carrying. Researchers also discovered that parental care is not instinctual – it is learned. If a male or female has not had previous experience carrying someone else’s infants prior to the birth of its own offspring, its own infants will be rejected†.

New father Johnny is an important individual for the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) as he has an impressively pure bloodline. These new births are considered significant additions to the EEP, helping to ensure the genetic diversity of the species in captivity.

Cotton-top Tamarin twins calling parents

Assistant Animal Manager at Cotswold Wildlife Park, Chris Kibbey, said: “We are delighted with the birth of another set of twins (pictured above) from our Critically Endangered Cotton-top Tamarin pair, which bring the family size to eight! Whereas many animals ‘leave home’ once they mature – either through their own choice or through encouragement from their parents, Cotton-top Tamarins will remain in the family group and will take on the role of ‘helpers’, assisting with the baby-sitting of the youngest members. This also allows the helpers to learn how to care for young, which enables them to become better parents themselves in later life”.

Chris added: “Unique among Callitrichids (small monkeys from South America), dads play a very important role in the care of the young, taking them and cleaning them soon after birth. The father will then carry the babies (usually twins) for the majority of the time, returning them to their mother to feed.  Our Cotton-tops are part of a well-managed European Breeding Programme and once the young have experienced caring for their younger siblings, they will go on to form breeding pairs in other zoos, ensuring the captive population remains stable and healthy”.

otton-top Tamarin adult side profile

Cotton-top Tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) are one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates* and are classified as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), making them one of South America’s rarest monkeys. Rampant deforestation and gold mining have destroyed an estimated 95% of their natural habitat and they are now restricted to the last forested regions that remain in a tiny corner of north-west Colombia. Due to habitat destruction and capture for the illegal pet trade, they have experienced a population reduction of 80% or more in the last 18 years. It is estimated that there are between 300 and 1000 Cotton-top Tamarins left in Colombia†† – a devastatingly low figure, considering their numbers once ranged between 20,000 and 30,000 in the 1960s and 1970s.

A. Savage et al (1996). Parental Care Patterns and Vigilance in Wild Cotton-Top Tamarins. †† Savage et al. 1996a. *Research according to Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates (2012-2014) compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN Species Survival Commission and the International Primatological Society.

Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens

Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens