Cotton-top tamarin Junior, one of PPI’s smallest residents, weighs in at less than one pound. Junior arrived at PPI from a biomedical research facility.

Export of cotton top tamarins from their native Colombia was banned in 1974, but before that they were often exported for the pet trade and zoos. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it is estimated that 20,000-30,000 were exported to the United States for biomedical research. They were often used for colon cancer research, many selectively bred so they would have a higher likelihood to develop cancer so scientists could study the disease.

Junior thinks she is large and in charge despite her small stature and likes being fed first. If that doesn’t happen she will let you know she’s upset with her loud chirping.Small-bodied and living in dense vegetation, cotton-top tamarins do not rely heavily on visual signals for communication but are more attuned to chemical and auditory signals. Vocal communication between tamarins serves primarily as group defense, group cohesion, alarm calling and close contact communication. All cotton-top tamarins and marmosets use “chirp” or “chuck calls” and “slicing screams” during mobbing attacks of predators or intruders or during feeding.

Junior’s favorite activity is foraging for treats. In the humid tropical forests of Colombia where tamarins are from, there are multiple vertical layers of growth, from the short understory to the tallest trees in the canopy. Cotton-top tamarins use multiple layers of the tropical forests in which they are found, moving vertically between the understory and canopy, but preferentially utilizing the lower vertical levels of the forest.

Today, cotton-top tamarins are among the most endangered primates in the world. They are listed as Critically Endangered due to severe reduction in population, estimated to be greater than 80 percent over the past three generations (18 years) due to destruction of habitat for agricultural activities. And unfortunately, cotton-tops are still also captured and illegally sold as pets. Current population estimates for the species in the wild are 6,000 individuals.

Rowdy shares his enclosure with cotton-top tamarin Junior. Rowdy is very people oriented and always runs to greet you while Junior is more shy, but the two hit it off as soon as they met. They sleep together every night in Junior’s favorite cardboard box. Opposites do attract.

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