Given the small size of cotton-top tamarins, it is very difficult to locate and follow known individuals in the wild. However, unique techniques developed by the staff of Proyecto Tití allow the field researchers to identify individual animals and locate groups with ease. Animals are captured once a year, anesthetized, and marked with a bright color using hair dye. The hair dye allows for identification through dense vegetation, and withstands up to 6 months of exposure to intense rainy seasons. The dominant male in each group is also fitted with a radio transmitter in a backpack harness which allow for ease in locating the animals with telemetry. The transmitter weighs less than 3% of a tamarin’s body weight, and has a battery life of about 9 months. The backpack-style harness is attached with a shoelace. This allows the male to carry the transmitter on the middle of its back, such that it does not interfere with carrying infants. The system also fits snugly to minimize the possibility of becoming entangled in branches. We have used several models of VHF transmitters over the years as the technology continues to improve with each new modification.

Field Team Member Using VHF Radio Telemetry to Track Wild Cotton-tops
© Proyecto Tití
Cotton-top Tamarin with Died Hair
© Fredy Gomez
Cotton-top Tamarins with Transmitter
© Fredy Gomez

Using a Telonics TR-2 receiver and an RA-2A two-element directional antenna, the tamarins are located by the observer moving in the direction of the signal frequency. This frequency gives off a signal from the target male's transmitter until the group is sighted. A signal is typically received within a range of 800 m. 

To learn more about attaching a transmitter please see our publication Savage, A., Giraldo, L.H., Blumer, E.S, Soto, L.H., Burger, W.T., Snowdon, C.T. Field techniques for monitoring cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus oedipus) in Colombia. American Journal of Primatology. 31:189-196, 1993.


Proyecto Titi has been actively involved in studying wild cotton-top tamarins for many years at our field sites in Colosó and Santa Catalina. We present a short overview of some of our publications on the behavior, reproductive patterns, and parental care strategies of this fascinating primate. As habitat for cotton-tops continues to be threatened in Colombia, it is essential that we document how this will effect this critically endangered primate for the future. We will continue to post information on our publications as they become available.


Primates in Peril
Savage, A., Soto, L., Lamilla, I. and Guillen, R. 2009. Cotton-top tamarin Saguinus oedipus (Linnaeus, 1758). In: R. A. Mittermeier et al., Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2008–2010, pp.68-71. IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group (PSG), International Primatological Society (IPS), and Conservation International (CI), Arlington, VA.

Cotton-top tamarins are Critically Endangered and found only in northwestern Colombia. They have an extremely limited distribution, occurring in northwestern Colombia between the Río Atrato and the lower Río Cauca and Rio Magdalena, in the departments of Atlántico, Sucre, Córdoba, western Bolívar, northwestern and northeastern Chocó east of the Río Atrato. Colombia is among the top ten countries suffering deforestation, losing more than 4,000 km² annually. There are just three protected areas in the historic range of the cotton-top tamarin — Parque Nacional Natural Paramillo (460,000 ha), Santuario de Flora y Fauna Los Colorados (1,000 ha) and Montes de María Reserve (7,460 ha). These protected areas have lost 42%, 71%, and 70% of their forests, respectively, since they were created.

Aside from deforestation, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, 20,000–40,000 cotton-top tamarins were exported to the United States for use in biomedical research. Today, cotton-top tamarins continue to be threatened by capture for the illegal pet trade, despite international laws condemning the activity. A recent population census was conducted in the historic distribution of the species that documented a dramatic decline in suitable habitat, and concluded that fewer than 7,394 cotton-top tamarins remain in the wild.

To aid in the conservation of the cotton-top tamarin, we established Proyecto Tití, a multi-disciplinary, in situ conservation program that combines field research, education initiatives and community development for the conservation of natural resources that is economically feasible for local communities in Colombia.

We developed classroom and field activities for elementary and secondary school children that were designed to create an awareness of the plight of the cotton-top tamarin and engage students in a variety of activities in the classroom and field, and in international exchanges that would promote the conservation of Colombia’s natural resources. We developed a strong partnership with the Barranquilla Zoo, and we now reach urban audiences though a series of classroom workbooks (CARTITILLA) aimed at 5–7th grade school children. It was used in 15 schools with more than 3,000 students. Our evaluations showed an 81% increase in the level of accuracy on correctly identifying a cotton-top tamarin, a 77% increase in understanding that cotton-top tamarins are found only in Colombia, and a 65% increase in the understanding of the pet trade as a threat to the survival of the species.

A family of five used approximately 15 logs a day to cook their food over an open fire. In discussions with local villagers in Colombia we discovered the traditional Colombian “binde”, a small cooking stove that was made from a termite mound would help with this problem. Interviews with local villagers indicated that bindes required less firewood than cooking over an open fire but while accepted by local communities in Colombia, bindes were made from termite mounds and they would quickly crack and disintegrate with repeated use and were consequently little favored. Proyecto Tití designed a durable binde made of clay that was readily accepted by the communities and proved to significantly reduce the amount of firewood consumed. Using a binde, the number of logs consumed each day was reduced by two-thirds.

Efforts to manage waste are also a challenge in local villages, and the situation is worsening, particularly in growing rural communities where disposal is generally by burning or by dumping in rivers or on the roadside. A program was developed to turn the trash into a source of income. The goal was to create an artisan group that would make a product from the numerous plastic bags, so as to provide a stable income that, combined with effective conservation education messaging, would result in a commitment to protect the forests, and reduce the capture of cotton-top tamarins for the illegal pet trade. Proyecto Titi first engaged the village of Los Limites in protecting cotton-top tamarins and their habitat by helping it with the confection of tote bags crocheted with recycled plastic bags called “eco-mochilas.” Fifteen women began the initiative, and were so successful it was necessary to provide business training as they became established entrepreneurs, developing products of a quality that sells in national and international markets.

Proyecto Tití demonstrated a clear economic benefit to individuals that participate in community empowerment programs and produced tangible results that are contributing to the survival of the cotton-top tamarin in Colombia.

Conserving cotton-top tamarins Saguinus oedipus through effective captive management, pubic engagement, and in situ conservation efforts
Savage, A and Guillen, R. 2012. Conserving cotton-top tamarins Saguinus oedipus through effective captive management, public engagement, and in situ conservation efforts. International Zoo Yearbook 46: 56-70.

ABSTRACT: The Cotton-top tamarin Saguinus oedipus is a Critically Endangered primate found only in Colombia. While a popular exhibit animal in zoos and an important research subject in the study of colon cancer and reproductive biology and behaviour, efforts to create a self-sustaining captive-breeding population for this species have been very successful. With the wealth of information on biology, captive management and status in the wild, efforts are now focused on ensuring that Cotton-top tamarins continue to remain in the wild. With large-scale development threatening some of the last remaining forested areas for the species and its popularity in the illegal pet trade, compounded by the constant extraction of forest resources by impoverished communities, strategies are needed to protect this species effectively for the future. Here, an overview is presented of the successful, multidisciplinary conservation programme developed by Proyecto Tití to involve local communities, national and international agencies, and the conservation community in the long-term protection of Colombia’s most threatened species.

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Novel survey method finds dramatic decline of wild cotton-top tamarin population
Savage, A., Thomas, L., Leighty, K.A., Soto, L.H., Medina, F.S. (2010) Novel survey method finds dramatic decline of wild cotton-top tamarin population. Nature Communications. 1:30, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1030

ABSTRACT: The cotton-top tamarin ( Saguinus oedipus ) is a critically endangered primate, endemic to the tropical forests of Colombia. Population monitoring is essential to evaluate the success of conservation efforts, yet standard survey methods are ineffective because animals fl ee silently before they are seen. We developed a novel technique that combines the use of playbacks of territorial vocalizations with traditional transect surveys. We used remote sensing to identify potential habitat within the species ’ historic range, and visited the 27 % that we could survey safely. Of this, only 99 km 2 was extant forest, containing an estimated 2,045 animals (95 % confi dence interval 1,587 – 2,634). Assuming comparable densities in non-surveyed areas, approximately 7,394 wild cotton-top tamarins remain in Colombia. With 20 – 30,000 animals exported to the United States in the late 1960s, this must represent a precipitous decline. Habitat destruction and capture for the illegal pet trade are ongoing. Urgent conservation measures are required to prevent extinction in the wild.

Field techniques for monitoring cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus oedipus) in Colombia
Savage, A., Giralto, L.H., Blumer, E.S., Soto, L.H., Burger, W., and Snowdon, C.T. Field techniques for monitoring cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus oedipus) in Colombia. American Journal of Primatology 31: 189-196.

ABSTRACT: We present reliable field techniques for capturing, anesthetizing, and identifying individual cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus oedipus). A new technique is presented for radio-tracking small bodied primates. A backpack-style harness was designed to carry a transmitter. This system appears effective in minimizing potential injurty and does not appear to inferfere with the normal behavior of the animal.

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Miller, L., Savage, A., Giraldo, H. Quantifying the remaining forested habitat within the historic distribution of the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia: Implications for long-term conservation. American Journal of Primatology, 64:451-457, 2004

Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) data was used to classify forested areas within the historic distribution of cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia. Cotton-top tamarins are a critically endangered species endemic to the northwest region of Colombia. This critically endangered species faces continued deforestation within its historical distribution in Colombia, thus, it is critical to develop strategies to protect tamarins and their habitat. Between 1990-2000, 31% of the forested habitat within the tamarins’ historic distribution has been lost. Agriculture, urban development, and logging have caused a significant decrease in remaining forested habitat on both private lands and in protected parks and reserves. It is estimated that since the inception of the protected lands (Parque Nacional Natural Paramillo, Santuarío de Fauna y Flora Los Colorados, and Reserva Forestal de Montes de Maria) almost 43% of the forested area within the parks boundaries have been lost. With an annual increase in human population in Colombia of 1.6% [Patel, 2002] it is important to target specific areas for protection while creating mitigation strategies to compensate for economic growth. The results of this study provide valuable information to assist in the long-term development of effective conservation strategies for this critically endangered primate.


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Most callitrichids eat the fruits of trees, vines and epiphytes, insects, newly sprouted leaves, buds or flowers, and small vertebrates. Some species also rely on tree exudates (gum and sap).

The examination of diet showed that cotton-tops in Santa Catalina and Colosó feed from more than 50 and 60 different tree species, respectively, in at least 45 families. With fruit making up the largest portion of the diet, cotton-top tamarins may be important seed dispersal agents for trees in the rainforest. Garber (1986) found the planting of defecated seeds from two tamarin species yielded a germination success rate of 70%, Callitrichids are likely influencing both regeneration and structure of the forest.

The diet is highly seasonal, correlating with the rainy season when most trees are fruiting. When fruit is scarce, the proportion of gums, nectar, and insects in the diet increases.

Food Type:  F = Fruit, G = Gum, N = Nectar, Fl = Flower
Field Site: C = Coloso, SC = Santa Catalina, SJ = San Juan Nepomuceno

Family Species Common Name Food Type Field Site Image
Acanthaceae Tichanthera sp. Palo de agua F C
Amaranthaceae Chamissoa altissima Pintaboyo F SC 1,2
Anacardiaceae Anacardium excelsum Caracolí F, G C
Astronium graveolens Santa cruz G SC, C
Mangifera indica Mango F C
Spondias mombin Hobo F, G C, SC  1, 2, 3
Anonaceae Annona purpurea Guanábana matimbáa N SC  
Ephedranthus colombianus Yaya prieta F C
Apocynaceae Formosia sp. Peronillo Fl C  
Rauvolfia ligustrina Venenito F SC  
Thevetia ahouai Tomatillo F SC  
Araceae Philodendron cf. hederaceum Abrazadera F SC,C  
Arecaceae Desmoncus orthacanthos Matamba F C, SC  
Sabal mauritiiformis Palma amarga F SC  
Anemopaegma orbiculatum Bejuco de bacota N SC  
Cydista aequinoctialis Bejuco colorao N SC  
Macfadyena unguis-cati Bejuco uñita N SC  
Pithecoctenium crucigerum Bejuco canastilla N SC  
Tabebuia sp. Pijiño blanco F C  
Tanaecium jaroba Bejuco calabacilla N SC  
Cavanillesia platanifolia Macondo G SC  
Ceiba pentandra Ceiba bonga G SC  
Pachira quinata Ceiba colorada N SC  
Pseudobombax septenatum Ceiba Fl C  
Boraginaceae Cordia bicolor Muñeco F C  
Cordia dentata Uvito F C, SC 1, 2
Cordia lucidula Arato F SC  
Burseraceae Bursera simarouba Indio en cuero G SC  1
Acanthocereus pitajaya Pitahaya F, T SC, C  
Pereskia guamacho Guamacho F SC, C  

Caesalpiniaceae Brownea ariza Arizal B C  
Cassia grandis Cañandonga G SC  
Capparidaceae Capparis baducca Guanabanito F C, SC 1,2,3,4,5
Crataeva tapia Naranjuelo F SC
Caricaceae Carica papaya Papaya
Celastraceae Maytenus longipes Corocito F C, SC  
Combretaceae Combretum fruticosum Peinecillo N C, SC 1,2
Cucurbitaceae Momordica charantia Balsamina F SC 1, 2, 3, 4
Ebenaceae Diospyros inconstans Juan de dios F SC  1,2
Elaeocarpaceae Muntingia calabura Periquito F C  1,2
Erythroxylaceae Erythoxylon sp. Coca de mico G C  
Euforbiaceae Alcalifa sp. Arara F C  
Cnidosculus urens
G SC, C  
Hura crepitans Ceiba de leche Fl SC  
Fabaceae Acacia affinis Bejuco zarza G
Lonchocarpus cf. pictus Majagua de gallina G SC  
Swartzia simplex Arara F SC  
Flacourtiaceae Casearia corymbosa Vara de humo F C  
Mayna grandifolia Puerco espín F SC  1,2
Xylosma intermedium Carita de santo F C, SC  
Hippocrateaceae Hippocratea cf. volubilis Bejuco corralero G SC  
Lauraceae Nectandra membranaceae Aguacatillo G C  
Lecytidaceae Lecythis minor Olla de mono G SC, C  
Leguminosae Albizzia caribaea Guacamayo F, G C, SC  
Enterolobium cyclocarpum Orejero F, G C  1,2,3,4,5
Enterolobium sp. Chicho G C  1
Inga hayesii Guamito F SC  
Mimosa sp. Zarza G C  
Phitecellobium himeanaefolium Loro F C  
Pithecellobium lanceolatum Tiribuchi F SC  
Pithecellobium samán Campano G C  1,2
Loganiaceae Strychnos tarapotensis Bejuco alambre F SC  
Loranthaceae Phoradendron quadrangulare Cagadita de pájaro F C, SC  
Malpighiaceae Malpighia punicifolia Cerezo montana F C  
Malvaceae Malvaviscus arboreus Quesito F SC 1, 2, 3, 4 5
Meliaceae Cedrella odorata Cedro G C  
Trichilia acuminata Negro viejo F C, SC  1,2,3,4
Trichilia appendiculata Mangle F, G C  
Trichilia hirta Hobo Verde F SC, C  
Trichilia martiana Vara de piedra F C, SC  
Menispermaceae Cissampelos pareira Nigua de puerco F SC  
Odontocarya tamoides Nigua de puerco F SC  
Mimosaceae Zygia inaequalis Guamo arroyero G SC  
Moraceae Brosimum alicastrum Guáimaro F C, SC  
Brosimum guianense Fruta de pava F SC  
Brosimum sp. Caucho F, Fl C  
Cecropia obtusifolia Guarumo F C  
Cecropia sp. Yarumo F, Fl C  
Chlorophora tinctoria Mora F C  1,2,3
Ficus dendroica Suan F C  
Ficus pallida Cope F C  
Maclura tinctoria Mora F SC  
Pouruma sp. Uva de monte F C  
Sorocea sprucei Pempinillo F SC  
Myrcinaceae Stylogyne turbacensis Patica de paloma F C, SC 1,2,3,4,5
Myrtaceae Eugenia acapulcensis Escobillo F C, SC  
Psidium guajaba Guayabo macho F, G C  
Nyctaginaceae Neea nigricans Buchesapo F, FI C, SC  
Phytolaccaceae Trichostigma octandrum Bejuco de burro F SC  1,2,3
Piperaceae Piper aduncum Cordoncillo F SC  
Polygonaceae Coccoloba caracasana Uvita roja F SC  
Coccoloba coronata Juan garrote Fl SC  
Alibertia edulis Yaya de cajon F SC  
Ciniciolia spinosa Fruta de pava F C  
Clavija latifolia Huevo de icotea
 F, FL    1, 2, 3
Genipa americana Jagua F C, SC  
Genipa caruto Encerao F C  
Genippa americana Zapatillo F, Fl C  
Pittoniotis trichantha Pigiño blanco F SC, C  
Psychotria sp. Ají de monte F SC  
Randia armata Maria angola de espina F C, SC  1, 2, 3
Randia formosa Maria angola F SC  
Rondeletia purdiei Bola de titi F SC  
Santalaceae Acanthosyris colombiana Yaya de sangre F SC  
Sapindaceae Allophyllus Crispeta F SC  
Matayba scrobiculata Guacharaco F SC  
Melicoca bijuga Mamón F C  
Paullinia cururu Ojo de perdiz F SC  
Paullinia pinnata Carne asada F C, SC  1, 2, 3, 4
Sapindus saponaria Jaboncillo G SC  
Talisia olivaeiformis Mamón de maría F SC  

Manao F, G C  
Sapotaceae Manilkara chicle Níspero F C  
Manilkara sp. Níspero de monte F C  
Sideroxilon persimile Guayacán de bola F SC  
Urea tamarindoides Tamarindo F C  

Costilla de vaca F C  
Solanaceae Solanum enoplacalyx Una de gato F SC
Sterculiaceae Basiloxylum excelsum Zapato G C  
Guazuma ulmifolia Guácimo F C, SC  1,2,3,4,5
Luehea sp. Cabo de hacha F C  
Luehea sp. Molenillo F C  
Sterculia apétala Camajón F C  
Ulmaceae Celtis iguaneus Maíz tostado F C  
Urticaceae Urera baccifera Pringamoza F C, SC  
Verbenaceae Vitex compresa Aceituno F SC  
Vitaceae Cissus sicyoides Bejuco uva F SC  

Cachicarnero F C  

Huevo de icotea F SC  1,2,3

Nuez moscado F C  

Varita de lazo F SC  


Castillo, E.F.G. 1996. Contribucion al conocimiento de la ecologia y etologia del titi de cabeza blanca (Saguinus oedipus – Linnaeus 1758), en la Serrania de la Coraza, Montes de Maria, Coloso, Sucre-Colombia. B.S. Thesis. Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Molina, G.M.R. 2001. Inventario floristico de un bosque seco tropical (bs-T) en la hacienda “El Ceibal,” Santa Catalina (Bolivar), con énfasis en las especies asociadas a la dieta del tití cabeciblanco (Saguinus oedipus). B.S. Thesis. Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Rizkalla, C. 2000. Feeding ecology and conservation of the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia. M.E.M. Thesis. Duke University.

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Cotton-top tamarins have an extensive vocal repertoire which is derived from the variation of two basic elements and the sequential combination of those elements (Cleveland and Snowdon 1982). The vocalizations described here were recorded over 18 months from a captive colony in Madison, Wisconsin with a Uher 4200 stereo tape recorder using a Sennheiser MD 441 microphone and either Scotch 209 or 177 low noise recording tape. Recordings were done at 9.5 cm/s. Sound spectrograms were made on a Kay Sonagraph Model 6061 B using a narrow band pass filter (90 Hz) over the frequency range of 160 to 16,000 Hz.

By assessing the structural and behavioral correlates of the vocalizations, 38 distinct sounds or combinations of sounds were identifies. The simplify the description of the repertoire, the sounds were grouped into six major classes based on structure.

Click on the Spectrogram to Hear the Vocalization

Class 1: Single Frequency Modulated Syllables

A. Short Duration Calls – Chirps were categorized according to four structural parameters: presence or absence of stem upsweep, duration, peak frequency, and frequency change. See Table 1 for call parameters.
Type A Chirp (Mobbing) During mobbing behavior, to sudden animated stimuli. By some groups to preferred foods. Rarely given to acoustical stimuli.
Type B Chirp (Directed Investigatory) To human observers or familiar object.
Type C Chirp (Pre-food) During approach to food or when individual approaches object that will be hand-held and orally explored.
Type D Chirp (Post-food) When animal actually possesses food or object.
Type E Chirp (General Alarm) To sudden visual and acoustic stimuli. To sudden leaping movement by group members if animal startled.

Type F Chirp (Intergroup) During intergroup antiphonal calling of Normal Long Calls. To audible outgroup vocalizations.

Type G Chirp (Nonspecific Investigatory) During relaxed environmental investigation.
Type H Chirp (Mild Alarm) To novel visual stimuli at close proximity.

Table 1. Parameters differentiating types of chirps.

Call Type Stem Upsweep Duration (ms) Peak Frequency Frequency Change
Type A Yes 79.9 ± 29.7 8.7 ± 1.7 5.9 ± 1.6
Type B Yes 100.0 ± 26.0 6.0 ± 1.0 2.0 ± 0.6
Type C Yes 25.2 ± 5.4 10.4 ± 1.2 3.4 ± 1.0
Type D Yes 42.6 ± 10.2 8.2 ± 0.7 3.3 ± 1.5
Type E Yes 36.9 ± 10.4 8.0 ± 1.6 3.1 ± 1.2
Type F No 56.0 ± 19.7 4.1 ± 0.7 1.0 ± 0.4
Type G No 57.9 ± 10.7 9.0 ± 1.1 6.1 ± 0.7
Type H No 20.8 ± 4.1 5.5 ± 0.8 2.9 ± 0.8

B. Long Duration Calls

Squeal During active physical contact by the passive participant: during wrestle play or face pressing between two individuals.
Slicing Scream Same as Type A Chirp

Class 2: Pulsed Vocalizations

Twitter Same as Squeal. Results from intensification of Squeal Context.
Hooked Chatter Same as Type D Chirp (food related). As infants approach.
Chevron Chatter Towards humans when animal is netted or placed in small cage. Also by some animals in response to human approaching them closely in home cage.
Type F Chirp Trill Same as for Type F Chirp. Tilling indicative of a higer state of arousal than Type F Chirp alone.
Type H Chirp Trill Same as for Type H Chirp.
Type A Trill During Antiphonal Call play interactions prior to attempted play mounts.
Type B Trill By individuals as they approach young infants to retrieve them. Also given by animals carrying young infants when infants move, vocalize or attempt to climb off.

Type C Trill Signals the end of a nursing bout, interspersed with Terminally Modulated Whistles.

Class 3: Single Whistles

Squeak In vigilance, foraging and investigatory activities. Increase in rate of emission with increase in arousal.
Large Initially Modulated Whistle Given greater than 0.6 m from other animals in low arousal situation. Not given during resting, grooming, nursing, except occasionally when animals break contact. Occurs during Antiphonal Call play
Small Initially Modulated Whistle Same as Large Initially Modulated Whistle except given at distances less than 0.6 m from other group members.
Terminally Modulated Whistle By individuals in resting contact, during grooming, by mothers during nursing, by parents and siblings retrieving and carrying infants.
Flat Whistle Given following Type F, H or E Chirp Trills

Class 4: Multiple Whistle Calls

Ascending Multi-Whistle (Intragroup) By animals in huddles, by mothers nursing infants.
Descending Multi-Whistle (Intragroup) Same as Ascending Multi-Whistle and Terminally Modulated Whistle. More commonly given to infants.
Partial Quiet Long Call (Intragroup) By mothers nursing infants. By subadults during close huddle contact and pauses during wrestle play.
Rapid Whistles (Intragroup) Before an approach to mount during Anti-phonal Call play.
Quiet Long Call(Intergroup) To audible Single Whistles, Chevron Chatters, Type H Trills, Twitters, Long Calls from unfamiliar animals. Occasionally given to no obvious stimulus during group huddles.
Normal Long Call (Intergroup) To distant non-group Combination Long Calls, Normal Long Calls, Type F Chirps. During isolation.

Class 5. Combination Vocalizations

Small Modulated Multi-Level Same as Small Initially Modulated Whistle
Large Modulated Multi-Level Same as Large Initially Modulated Whistle
Combination Long Call During play, isolation or when socially disturbed. When animal not in contact.
Inverted U + Whistle In alarm to faint acoustical stimuli after an alert has been signaled.
Type F Chirp + Whistle By individuals less confident than when giving Normal Long Calls. As response to Combination or Normal Long Calls or non-group Type F Chirps. In isolation.

Class 6. Noisy Calls

Squawk By recipient of aggressive behavior. In some animals as an appeasement gesture, by others as an invitation for grooming.
Scream When animals attempt to steal food.
Sneeze After eating, drinking water, sniffing or as result of rubbing nose on substrate or with hand.

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Savage A, Giraldo LH, Blumer ES, Soto LH, Snowdon CT. 1996a. Demography, group composition, and dispersal in wild cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) groups. American Journal of Primatology 37:23-32.

Tamarins live in social groups of 2-10 individuals. Although, there have been a few cases of reported polygamy, most groups contain only one reproductively active male and female (Neyman 1977). Females, on average, give birth to twins annually. Social groups appear relatively stable, with an average rate of emigration of 0.71 ± 1.18 individuals/group/year. Males and females disperse to neighboring groups equally, however, adults move more frequently than juveniles and infants. Immigrant males are more likely to enter a group following the death of a resident male. Reproductive success of these immigrant males is difficult to quantify without paternity tests, however, an immigrant male may release subordinate females from reproductive suppression. A novel male avoids the constraints of incest avoidance, and may thus stimulate a reproductively inhibited female. If a female immigrates, she does not necessarily assume the breeding position. Emigration increased to 2.8 individuals/group/year during a drought , suggesting movement between groups may be a result of extreme environmental conditions leading to increased competition for limited resources.

A proposed model to illustrate the potential reproductive strategies of cotton-top tamarins:

Male Reproduction

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Savage A. Snowdon CT, Giraldo LH. 1996b. Parental care patterns and vigilance in wild cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus). In Adaptive Radiations of Neotropical Primates. Eds. M Norconk, A Rosenberger, P Garber. New York: Plenum Press.

Parental care in this species is shared by all group members. Early infant caretaking experience, observed in captivity, has been found to influence future reproductive success in both males and females. If an animal has never carried an infant on its back while it was in its family it will abuse its own offspring. However, if the animal has experience caring for offspring prior to reproduction, it will successfully care for its offspring. Interestingly, non-natal animals are actively involved in infant care and are often observed assuming sentinel positions in their new groups. An animal never carries infants while involved in “sentry” duty. The sentry remains vigilant while the group forages or rests and is responsible for notifying the group of any potential threats to their safety.

Observations of 12 births in the wild showed that infants are carried exclusively during the first four weeks of development, with a gradual decrease during weeks 5-9, such that by week 10, the infants are solo for nearly 50% of the observation time. All individuals in the group carry the infants, though adults were more likely to than juveniles. There was no significant difference in carrying time between males and females. Primiparous females, however, carry their infants more during their first two weeks, than multiparous females. Infant survival to one year of age increases with group size (see Table 1 below). Contribution of the mother in infant care remains independent of group size, however, the larger the group, the less time the adult males carried infants.

Group Size (N) Infant Survival Rate
3 40%
4 66.7%
5 100%
6 87.5%

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Savage, A., Soto, L., Medina, F., Emeris, G., & Soltis, J. (2009). Litter Size and Infant Survivorship in Wild Groups of Cotton-top Tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia. American Journal of Primatology, 71, 1-5.

Developing successful conservation programs for endangered primates requires a complete understanding of the factors involved in successful reproduction and causes of infant mortality. In contrast to other nonhuman primates, callitrichids are unusual as litter size can vary between one to five offspring in captivity. Twins tend to be the norm for most callitrichids, but the incidence of triplet and quadruplet births can account for nearly 10–50% of the litters born in captive colonies. Litter size significantly influences the survivorship of infants with twins having a higher survivorship than triplets or quadruplets. In the wild, reports suggest that twin and singleton litters were the norm in most callitrichids studied to date. Incidence of triplet births is very low in the wild, but there have been triplets observed in a Golden Lion Tamarin family where none of the offspring survived and in a Common Marmoset family where evidence was found of survival.

In our study, there were fifty-eight litters from 21 females recorded at the two field sites. Twins were most common (81%), followed by singletons (16%), and we had the first report of triplet births (3%) in wild cotton-top tamarins. Mortality was not uniformly distributed across time with 33% of cases confined to the first week. Determining the sex of the offspring rarely occurred if infants died or were missing from the group, and carcasses of infants were rarely found. Thus, calculating an accurate sex ratio of infants was not possible. However, surviving offspring were comprised of 42 males and 32 females. Determining the immediate cause of mortality was also challenging. Two of the six carcasses that were recovered were too decomposed to determine the cause of death. The remaining four carcasses were from the two observed triplet births and malnutrition was deemed the cause of death.

Fourteen females produced more than one litter. For these females, the mean survival rate to 6 months for first litters was 57%710.3 SEM but the mean across subsequent litters rose to 86%77.6. However, the effects of parity were not as clear. One primiparous female (Nadia) left her family group and assumed the position of the reproductively active female in a neighboring group and she gave birth to twins that survived to 6 months. However, two primiparous females (Milena and Tamara) were identified in the Santa Catalina sample but do not represent ‘‘typical’’ primiparous females as they were in groups containing two pregnant females. Milena successfully cared for her twins until one was observed missing from the group at week 8 and Tamara’s twins were ‘‘kidnapped’’ by her mother and subsequently died. Litter size appeared to influence survival with triplet litters showing a lower infant survival to 6 months (33%) than twins (80%) or singletons (77%), although the number of triplet litters (n52) is too small for statistical analysis.

This study confirms that infant survival to 6 months of age in the wild (78% twins and 88% singletons), gathered from two distinct field sites, and was greater than has been reported in captive colonies. Similar to captive colonies mortality was highest during the first week of life; however, given the low rate of carcass retrieval we cannot determine the cause of mortality and infant mortality associated after 20 days may be related to the development of infant independence. Given that the parity of the majority of our study females could not be determined, we did find that infant mortality was higher in first litters than subsequent litters born to wild cotton-top tamarin females. We were unable to find a significant relationship between infant mortality and group size or the number of adult males in a social group. However, there was a trend toward higher mortality with a shorter inter-birth interval. The number of females that produce multiple litters in 1 year is rare, but infants born out of the normal birthing season may be at risk as food may not be as plentiful for a nursing female.

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Reproductive events of wild cotton-top tamarins in Colombia
Savage A, Shideler SE, Soto LH, Causado J, Giraldo LH, Lasley BL, Snowdon CT. 1997. Reproductive events of wild cotton-top tamarins in Colombia. American Journal of Primatology 43: 329-337.

In collaboration with Drs. Bill Lasley and Susan Shideler of the University of California-Davis, we have developed methods for assaying estrone glucuronide (E1C) and progesterone (PdG) in both urine and feces of cotton-top tamarins. We have also successfully developed a technique to collect daily fecal samples from wild tamarins. We are in the process of further examining the factors controlling reproductive events of different populations of wild tamarins. This will allow us to compare the reproductive cycles of both wild and captive tamarins and examine the mechanisms regulating fertility in the wild.

Captive female tamarins have a gestational length of 183 days and an ovulatory cycle of 18 days (Ziegler et al. 1987). Females have an 18-day post-partum estrus and 80% of these ovulations result in conception. In the wild, females have an average 144 day post-partum suppression of fertility, which appears to be influenced by environmental conditions. Assays reflect conception with E1C levels ranging >4,000 ng/g and PdG >8ug/g. Hormone levels drop following parturition (E1C to <1000 ng/g and PdG to <3 ug/g).

Reproductively active females are also capable of influencing the fertility of other females in the group. In both the wild and captivity, post-pubescent females are reproductively suppressed, appearing acyclic, while they remain in their family. In order for a female to become reproductively active, she must be removed from her family and paired with a novel male. Phermones have been implicated as one of the factors mediating this suppression. Captive females removed from their family, paired with a novel male and exposed to scent secretions from their mother, took longer to ovulate than those females in a contol condition. Males also influence a female’s fertility. Males can accelerate puberty in prepubescent females. Moreover, pairing a female with a “familiar” male (eg. brother) will not cause the female to become reproductively active. Females will ovulate only in the presence of a novel male.

The cycles of wild daughters were monitored while in their natal group. One female cycled irregularly during her mother’s period of postpartum infertility. When her mother conceived again, she was observed to ovulate and conceive herself. Resulting aggression between mother and daughter ended in the eviction of the daughter from the group prior to parturition. The second daughter exhibited normal cycles, however, following the birth of siblings, there was a dramatic decline in hormone levels that remained low through her mother’s next conception.

While females in captivity are observed to reproduce twice a year, wild females give birth only once a year, prior to the rainy season. The birth period appears to be correlated with the greatest consumption of fruit and insects in the diet. And diet composition may also influence fecundity, whether a female has a single infant or twins. See the list of plants cotton-tops feed from.

Sociosexual development, pair bond formation, and mechanisms of fertility suppression in female cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus oedipus)
Savage, A., Zieger, T.E., and Snowdon, C.T. 1988. Sociosexual development, pair bond formation, and mechanisms of fertility suppression in female cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus oedipus). American Journal of Primatology 14:345-359.

ABSTRACT: The effect of various social environments on sociosexual behavior was examined in six young female cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus oedipus) and in three established breeding females. Behavioral observations and hormonal samples were collected on young females while they were living with their families, when they were isolated from conspecifics, and after they were paired with an unrelated male. While living with the family, all females showed a suppression of fertility and low frequencies of sociosexual behavior. Following removal from the family, isolated females displayed an increase in rate of scent marking and an increase in hormonal levels. When young females were paired with males, they were exposed to scent secretions from their natal families, from an unfamilar family, and from a control for a total of 24 weeks. After pairing, hormonal levels increased dramatically, and ovarian cyclicity began. An increase in sociosexual behavior and elevated levels of scent marking accompanied this physiological change. Newly paired females had higher rates of affiliative behavior and scent marking than did established breeding females. However, both newly paired and established breeding males were more likely to initiate contact, grooming bouts, and social sniffing than were females. Time to first ovulation was later in females who were exposed to scent secretions from their natal families than it was in those females given a control for the first 8 weeks following pairing. No female conceived during exposure to scent secretions. However, once normal ovarian cycling had begun or a pregnancy was established, exposure to scent secretions had no effect. Thus, the social environment influences the fertility, sociosexual behavior, and pair bond formation of cotton-top tamarins. In addition, chemical stimuli found in the scent secretions produced by the natal family are most likely involved in reproductive suppression.

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Developing an Effective Community Conservation ProgramSavage, A., Guillen, R., Lamilla, I., & Soto, L. (2010). Developing an Effective Community Conservation Program for Cotton-Top Tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia. American Journal of Primatology, 72, 379-390.

Developing effective primate conservation programs, which address the conservation needs of the animals and the needs of local communities that directly impact the habitats that the primates need to survive, is a challenging task. Proyecto Tití´ has provided economic alternatives to local communities that have dramatically reduced the illegal capture of cotton-top tamarins and forest destruction in the region that has positively impacted the long-term survival of this critically endangered primate. Although primate conservation programs can indeed focus on creating knowledgeable individuals, issues relating to poverty can override the most well-educated communities, thus putting the long-term conservation of primates and their habitats at continued risk. The trend in successful conservation programs has been one of integrated rural development that demonstrate direct benefit to the local people (money, jobs, access to health related resources, and food) by conserving species and their habitats.

Understanding the root causes of primate population decline is essential in the development of a comprehensive conservation program. Proyecto Titi has focused efforts on (1) long-term monitoring of the reproductive and behavioral biology of the cotton-top tamarin; (2) documenting the loss of forested habitat, developing techniques to accurately estimate the remaining wild population, and monitoring them over time; and (3) identifying factors that contribute to the decline of this critically endangered species.

Long-term monitoring of species

We began by developing field sites within the historic distribution of cotton-top tamarins, so that we could conduct long-term field studies to investigate the reproductive and behavioral biology of this species. Having data from two field sites allowed us to compare a variety of factors (fecundity, survival rates, home range size, feeding ecology, group dynamics, etc.) to determine if there were any biological causes that were influencing the long-term survival of the species. Our studies have shown that wild cotton-top tamarins do not appear to have high rates of adult or infant mortality, issues of disease exposure, or any obvious biological cause for their decline at our study sites. However, we have observed challenges with animals effectively dispersing, given the limited forested habitat in the area.

Documenting forest loss and species decline

Colombia is among the top ten countries to suffer significant loss of forested habitat with a 0.5% annual rate of destruction and the status of their forest habitat has been designated critically endangered throughout a significant portion of Colombia. A study by Miller et al. [2004] documented a 31% decrease in forested habitat within the tamarins’ historic distribution between 1990 and 2000, because of the conversion of tropical forest habitat to agricultural uses and urban development, extraction of forest resources for firewood and lumber, and logging on both private and protected areas.

Given the rapid rate of forest decline, it was imperative to develop a population monitoring program for the cotton-top tamarin. Given their small size, arboreal nature, and fear of humans, using standard line transect sampling methods dramatically underestimates the size of the population. We, therefore, developed a collaboration with scientists from the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modeling at the University of St. Andrews, and created a ‘‘lure strip transect,’’ which combines the use of playbacks of territorial vocalizations with traditional transect surveys to yield a robust method of estimating population size. The results from our census found a dramatic decline in the existing cotton-top tamarin population in Colombia. Given the marked decline in suitable forest habitat combined with a small population, the cotton-top tamarin has been reclassified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) [IUCN, 2008].

Factors influencing the long-term survival of cotton-top tamarins

Our studies show that the primary threats to the survival of the cotton-top tamarin has been the dramatic loss of habitat from the conversion of tropical forest habitat to agricultural uses, extraction of forest resources for firewood and lumber, and capture for sale in the illegal pet trade. This destruction and consumption of forest resources is driven by the fact that 65% of the population in Colombia lives below the poverty line. With a lack of sustainable income, limited access to employment opportunities, and lack of knowledge of the long-term impact of continued unsustainable extraction of forest products, the future of cotton-top tamarins and the biodiversity in Colombia is severely threatened.

Our early studies found that there were many myths and misconceptions about the forest and the wildlife of the area. More than 90% of the population we surveyed had no idea that cotton-top tamarins were endemic to Colombia and not found in other countries. Our educational strategy involved developing formal and informal programs that (1) increased awareness to the plight of the cotton-top tamarin and the biodiversity of the region; (2) addressed farming practices to minimize impact to the remaining forest habitat; (3) developed teacher training programs to increase scientific literacy in the schools; (4) addressed pet trade issues for rural, urban, and enforcement authorities; and (5) partnered with educational entities to integrate this information into existing school curriculum and established programming.

One challenge facing cotton-top tamarins was the amount of wood that was harvested from the forest and consumed for firewood. It is estimated that globally, nearly 2.5 billion people consume firewood, charcoal, crop residues, and dung as their primary source of energy. In discussions with local villagers in Colombia, we discovered the traditional Colombian ‘‘binde’’ a small cook stove that was made from a termite mound. Interviews with local villagers indicated that bindes required less firewood than cooking over an open fire. Although accepted by local communities in Colombia, there were limitations with bindes made from termite mounds because they often cracked and disintegrated with repeated use. Given that bindes were already a part of the culture; our goal was to make bindes better. We designed a durable binde made of clay. A family of five used approximately 15 logs a day to cook their food over an open fire but using a binde, the number of logs consumed each day was reduced by 2/3rds.

In December 2008, a survey was administered to 107 families that had received a binde. All 107 individuals that participated in the survey were still using the binde they received in 2006. Although 57% of these original bindes had cracks or were slightly damaged during the 2-year study, they were still in use. One hundred percent of the respondents believed that they used less fuel when cooking in a binde than over an open fire and they estimated a 50% reduction in firewood needed annually for cooking. Our studies have suggested that communities readily used bindes and found them to be of value, and also were cutting fewer trees in the forest.

Regardless of effectiveness of the conservation education programs, our experience has shown that if basic human needs are not met, local communities will not engage in activities that positively benefit wildlife. Our goal was to create an artisan group that would create a product from plastic bags that were littering the environment and jeopardizing the future survival of cotton-top tamarins. By providing a stable source of income to the artisan group combined with effective conservation education messaging, they would then commit to protecting the forests and not capture cotton-top tamarins for the illegal pet trade. Today, the artisans have a thriving business selling a variety of products crocheted from plastic bags.

This type of collaborative approach that combines educational programs that increase awareness to the plight of the cotton-top tamarin with opportunities for direct economic benefit results in creating new local champions that are committed to protecting these resources for the future.

United Women Artisans Association of Los Límites (ASOARTESANAS) - Equator Initiative Case Studies
United Nations Development Programme. 2013. United Women Artisans’ Association of Los Límites (ASOARTESANAS), Colombia. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY.

Local and indigenous communities across the world are advancing innovative sustainable development solutions that work for people and for nature. Few publications or case studies tell the full story of how such initiatives evolve, the breadth of their impacts, or how they change over time. Fewer still have undertaken to tell these stories with community practitioners themselves guiding the narrative.

To mark its 10-year anniversary, the Equator Initiative aims to fill this gap. The following case study is one in a growing series that details the work of Equator Prize winners – vetted and peer-reviewed best practices in community-based environmental conservation and sustainable livelihoods. These cases are intended to inspire the policy dialogue needed to take local success to scale, to improve the global knowledge base on local environment and development solutions, and to serve as models for replication. Case studies are best viewed and understood with reference to ‘The Power of Local Action: Lessons from 10 Years of the Equator Prize’, a compendium of lessons learned and policy guidance that draws from the case material.

Project Summary:
United Women Artisans’ Association of Los Límites (ASOARTESANAS) operates in an area of northern Colombia which contains the last remaining population of cotton-top tamarin monkeys. The cotton-top tamarin faces threats from deforestation and hunting, as well as human capture for sale in the illegal pet trade. ASOARTESANAS produces stuffed animal toys of the cotton-top tamarin, providing a new source of income while simultaneously raising awareness of the threats posed to this endangered species.

Members also collect discarded plastic bags and transform them into handbags, generating income and reducing pollution. Women who previously had little employment now make on average USD 150 per month. This artisanal recycling activity has removed over three million plastic bags from local forests and streams. ASOARTESANAS conservation activities also include community outreach and training in alternative energy, including the use of clay woodstoves and biomass pellets.

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