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Primate births Basel monkey house welcomes new residents

Two cotton-top tamarins

The two surviving cotton-top tamarins

(Zoo Basel)

Newborns of three Latin-American monkey species – coppery titis, spider monkeys and cotton-top tamarins – have come into the world at Basel Zoo. All three species are facing major problems in their natural habitats and their future is uncertain, the zoo warned. 

The zoo said in a statementexternal link on Thursday that spider monkey Bonita had given birth to a girl on July 1. Cotton-top tamarin Gitana had become the mother of triplets on June 24 but one died just a few days later. This is a common occurrence with triplets in this species, the zoo said, as the mother usually does not produce enough milk for all three young. 

spider monkey Bonita with daughter

Spider monkey Bonita with daughter

(Zoo Basel)

The most recent new arrival to the monkey house is a coppery titi born to 17-year-old Chica on July 21. The zoo isn’t sure whether the baby is male or female, “as the two sexes of coppery titis are difficult to tell apart”. 

Coppery titi monkey with offspring

Chica, a coppery titi, with her baby

(Zoo Basel)

Critically endangered 

Cotton-top tamarins are only found in north-western Colombia, coppery titis in western Brazil and eastern Peru, and Geoffroy’s spider monkeys in Central America. 

The outlook is most positive for the coppery titis, the zoo said. “Since 2012, Basel Zoo has been involved in the ‘Proyecto Mono Toconexternal link’ project looking to conserve and conduct research into a closely related monkey species in Peru – the Rio Mayo titi, which is under much greater threat than the coppery titi.” 

The project is seeking to obtain official protected status for valuable areas and teach locals how to protect the animals. 

The future is not looking rosy for cotton-top tamarins: they are critically endangered, and their numbers are falling. Spider monkeys are also endangered and have a decreasing population. 

“The main reason for the monkeys becoming endangered in Latin America is the loss of their habitat as a result of forest clearing,” the zoo explained. 

“Large, undisturbed forest areas such as those populated by Geoffroy’s spider monkeys are becoming rare. Areas that once contained huge forests have now been planted with crops to feed the locals. However, many areas are also used to grow pineapples or graze cattle that will ultimately end up on our Western plates.” 

Future resettlement 

Hunting is another reason they are endangered, although to a lesser extent. Many monkeys are kept as pets or used to make supposed remedies. 

“When the cotton-top tamarin population was larger, many of these animals were captured and brought to Europe for research purposes, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. This is where our current zoo population comes from.” 

Specialists believe that this is why there is now greater genetic diversity in zoos than in the wild: zoo populations come from a time when there were many more animals living in natural habitats. 

“This species is therefore a candidate for future resettlement, a process in which zoo animals could theoretically be used to enhance wild populations. This plan could draw on experience gained from working with golden lion tamarins, which have previously been successfully reintroduced into the wild,” the zoo concluded.


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