The Golden Lion Tamarin, the Golden-rumped Lion Tamarin (also known as Black Lion Tamarin), the Golden-Headed Lion Tamarin, and the Black Faced Lion Tamarin are all close relatives belonging in the tamarin (leontopithecus) family. They are all reasonably well known as the world's most critically endangered mammals. Of a species that once stretched across most of South America, mostly in Brazil, there are only a few severely fragmented populations left, each composed of less than fifty mature tamarins.

Less than fifty. A small storm could make this animal extinct. A tree could fall over and destroy an entire population.

The lion tamarins, along with being THIS close to extinction, happen to be some of the cutest animals ever. The Golden Lion Tamarin looks something like a cross between a monkey, a squirrel, a shag rug, and a bar of gold. The tiny 1.5 pound creature has long, flowing, golden locks which cover its entire body, except for the face and hands/feet. The Black Lion Tamarin is all black, except for a patch of golden fur on his lower back; the Golden-Headed Tamarin is black with golden arms, head, and tail; the Black Faced Tamarin is precisely the reverse. As opposed to the more common perception of monkeys (basically any primate with a long tail), tamarins don't have opposable thumbs -- which is just a feature of New World primates. But, they do have long, lanky fingers, strong legs, and razor sharp claws, implements which allow them to leap up to 20 feet from tree to tree about as easily as we scratch ourselves.

Tamarins live in family groups, the parents generally mating once a year and producing a litter of two offspring with each go. The young stay several years, usually helping the parents take care of any new offspring, and then running off to start their own group. The fathers carry the babies on their backs, and they’re nursed every couple of hours. Just like most primates, tamarins eat some fruit, but, due to their long fingers and claws, are very good at digging bugs out of bark. It has several natural predators including the jaguar, ocelot, ornate hawk-eagle, and black-hawk eagle.

After hearing this, one might wonder "Why would anyone want to kill this glorious squirrel-monkey-rug which seems to glow with the radiance of the sun?" That is a good question, and there are several reasons - Twenty-thousand to be specific. These tamarins are so insanely rare that just one of their foot long pelts can bring in $20,000 to anyone cold hearted enough to look deep into its eyes and still pull the trigger. Of course, due to the low numbers, this species is protected in a variety of manners. First of all, it is specifically protected under Appendix I of CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species. CITES is basically proposed of a proposition and two appendices: Appendix I makes it illegal to transport anything related to an endangered species (living, dead, the fur, the babies, or even just the foot) across international borders; Appendix II protects look-alike species (something like fake leopard skin).

Unfortunately, no matter how many poachers we stop, we probably can't save this species. One of most destructive things that we do to these tamarins is cut down the tropical forest. Ninety percent of the tamarin habitat has disappeared. We are losing 58 acres of tropical rainforest per MINUTE; 10,000,000 acres of rainforest per year, in Latin America alone (these statistics come from Dr. Andrew Smith, a PhD in Conservation Biology, professor at Arizona State University, and active participator in world-wide conservation). You can imagine what this means for the little golden lion tamarin and his relatives, who live solely in the tropical jungles of Brazil. The coastal regions of the jungle have now been replaced by sunny beach homes. Many of its habitats are protected by the government, but I believe we all know how the government around Brazil works. It's really more of a...guideline rather than an actual rule. The truth is, though we can perhaps stop the large scale agricultural operations which are clear-cutting the forests, but we can't stop the small villagers who are just trying to cut down trees in order to live.

What a tangled web we weave...

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