Home Primates ABC Golden lion tamarin


The name gives you a clue: the golden lion tamarin has beautiful golden hair around its face and shoulders, which is very reminiscent of a lion’s mane! This primate is about the size of a squirrel and they are also called clawed monkeys. That is because golden lion tamarins have claws instead of flat nails. This gives them a good grip on trees and branches when they climb, which they even do vertically. They have olfactory glands on their chest and behind. They deposit scents to let other animals know things like their location, what sex they are and whether they are ready to mate.


Golden lion tamarins only live in a tiny area of rainforest on the south-eastern coast of Brazil. They live in the trees at a height of three to ten metres and they hardly ever go down to the ground.


Golden lion tamarins live in family groups consisting of a father, a mother and their offspring. There about two to eleven animals in each of these small groups.


These remarkable dwarf monkeys communicate with each other using a variety of sounds. They also use scents to tell other animals things: they rub their olfactory glands against branches, for example, to deposit a scent. Golden lion tamarins spend much of the day foraging. They love Bromeliaceae plants, not because they eat them, but because they are full of insects. They are like a rainforest fast food restaurant. In the middle of the day they rest, groom each other or play with each other.


Golden lion tamarins usually have twins. Sometimes even twice in one year! Of course it is a major undertaking for a mother to raise so many young. Which is why the entire family helps to raise them, including father, brothers and sisters. Mind you, the parents are clearly in charge. When the oldest offspring are about three to four years old, they leave the group. They go off to find a partner to start their own family with. Thanks to the fact that they helped raise their brothers and sisters, they now know how to raise their own offspring!

Situation in the wild

About thirty years ago, golden lion tamarins had almost gone extinct in the wild (in Brazil). There were only about two hundred wild golden lion tamarins left. People chopped down the forests where they lived, for instance to build roads. This left lots of small areas of forest, making it difficult for the golden lion tamarins to reach each other. Fortunately, Brazilian conservationists raised the alarm in time. They established protected nature reserves where the golden lion tamarins were able to live in relative safety. In addition, European zoos raised funds to plant new trees in Brazil to reconnect the separated areas of forest.

At Apenheul

Apenheul played an important part in reintroducing golden lion tamarins to the wild. A breeding programme for the various species was set up in a partnership between the Brazilian government and European zoos. As part of this programme, golden lion tamarins are specially trained to survive in the wild. Ultimately, some 150 golden lion tamarins have been returned to the wild. There are now about 1500 golden lion tamarins in the wild, including descendants of golden lion tamarins from Apenheul. How cool is that?

Breeding programme

Apenheul is part of the EEP European breeding programme for golden lion tamarins. By working together with other European zoos, we maintain a genetically healthy population of this species in captivity. In fact, Apenheul was the first Dutch zoo to be allowed keep golden lion tamarins as part of the European breeding programme. So we have quite a special relationship with the golden lion tamarins.

Fun Facts

  • Golden lion tamarins have quite long fingers. They often use them to pry out tasty morsels from underneath tree bark. A nice crunchy insect, for example!
  • Golden lion tamarins are a species of dwarf monkey, all of which are famous for their striking ‘hairstyles’. In the case of golden lion tamarins it is the beautiful hair surrounding their head, which looks a bit like a lion’s mane.
  • In total there are four species of lion tamarins: black-headed lion tamarins, black lion tamarins, golden lion tamarins and golden-headed lion tamarins. You can see the latter two at Apenheul!