Home Primates ABC Emperor tamarin


Emperor tamarins are dwarf monkeys. You can recognise them right away by their characteristic white moustaches. Males, females and young all have them. The emperor tamarin’s fur is mottled grey-brown. They also have a brown-orange tail. And just like other dwarf monkeys, they have claws. These enable them to hold on tightly to trees and branches, even vertically. Emperor tamarins also have olfactory glands on their chest and genitals.


In the wild, emperor tamarins dwell in tropical rainforests and in mountainous regions. They live in South America (in parts of Brazil, Peru and Bolivia). Emperor tamarins mostly live in the middle and lower layers of the rainforest.


They live in small family groups of up to ten individuals. Each group consists of the father, the mother and their offspring. Sons as well as daughters eventually leave the group and join other existing groups, or start a new group with other individuals who have also recently left their natal group.


Emperor tamarins are extremely territorial. They protect their territory well and react strongly when competitors are in the vicinity. They use high-pitched, shrill sounds to warn trespassers what their territory is. They also engage in tongue-flicking, rapidly moving their tongue in and out of their mouth to indicate displeasure. In addition, emperor tamarins often communicate through scents. They mark out their territory by leaving their scent on branches and leaves.

Situation in the wild

In the wild in Brazil and Peru, emperor tamarins are not endangered. The situation in Bolivia is unclear. However, large areas of their natural habitat are disappearing, primarily due to logging. People also hunt for emperor tamarins to sell them as pets.

At Apenheul

At Apenheul the emperor tamarins live at the top of the Tree-Top Walk. They roam freely among the visitors there. They live together with several other (freely roaming) primate species.

Breeding programme 

Apenheul is part of the EEP European breeding programme for emperor tamarins. By working together with other zoos, we ensure a genetically healthy and demographically stable population of dwarf monkeys is maintained in zoos.

Fun facts

  • Thanks to their claws, emperor tamarins are very good at climbing (down) vertically. Their claws give them additional grip.
  • When an emperor tamarin family goes to sleep, they roll up together and spent the night in the hollow of a tree. Nice and cosy!
  • Emperor tamarins love gum (a kind of tree sap). The zookeepers hide this in holes in tree trunks. They also eat tree sap in the wild, only they can’t make holes in the bark themselves. So they take advantage of various kinds of marmosets who are able to do this for them.