Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Imagine a squirrel-sized monkey with shocking white hair leaping 15 feet from tree to tree—better yet, see these rare creatures yourself!
Fall in love with this spry, tree-jumping South American monkey with the wild hairdo.
Cotton-Top Tamarins in the Wild
Cotton-top tamarins are found in South America in tropical forests of northwestern Colombia, where they can be observed about 30 feet high in the trees foraging for tasty fruits and insects.
Threats to Cotton-Top Tamarins
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists the cotton-top tamarin as “critically endangered.” A 2010 census estimated less than 7,500 individuals remain in the wild.
Disney Conservation Efforts
The Walt Disney Company is passionately committed to the protection of cotton-top tamarins and their tropical forest habitats. Discover the creative ways Disney is helping these tiny tamarins—and how you can help them, too!
“An amazing thing happens when people have the chance to come face-to-face with wildlife. They feel a strong connection, and are motivated to take action to protect wildlife and wild places and the environment.” – Dr. Jackie Ogden, former VP, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks
Cotton-tops are among the most endangered primates in the world, and Disney is working to safeguard their future in the wild.
The greatest threat to the survival of cotton-top tamarins is the loss of their native habitat from deforestation. As human populations expand, Colombian forests are being cleared for agricultural expansion, timber for construction and even firewood for cooking. Another threat to tamarins is from the illegal wildlife trade. Cotton-tops have become popular as pets, which has led to their capture and sale by local communities. Habitat loss and the pet trade have caused a rapid decline in cotton-top populations.
Disney Is Helping Cotton-Tops in the Wild
Disney has a particular fondness for cotton-tops tamarins since Disney’s Conservation Director, Dr. Anne Savage, is a world-renowned expert on the species. In Colombia, Disney’s support is helping to reverse the cotton-top decline by supporting work to protect and expand forest habitat for monkeys and other wildlife, reduce the illegal wildlife trade and create alternative income sources for community members as a way to protect forest resources. You will be amazed at the creative solutions local communities are involved in to help save cotton-top tamarins!
Developing Environmental Entrepreneurs
Sometimes the best way to help wildlife is to help their human neighbors. In Colombia, the Disney Conservation Fund is working with the conservation group Proyecto Tití to reduce the use of forest products and develop new ways to provide local communities with a stable source of income. To get locals to use less firewood, Proyecto Tití reinvented the traditional binde cook stove and made a clay version that is 67% more efficient, using 5 logs instead of 15. The new binde stoves not only save trees for the tamarins, they also produce less smoke, leading to less eye and lung irritation. And the food is reported to taste just as good!
To discourage the sale of tamarins as pets, Proyecto Tití created education programs to increase knowledge and appreciation for the monkeys. But support for the tamarins didn’t take off until Proyecto Tití began partnering with local women’s groups to create small business alternatives to the pet trade. Colombian women first learned to make plush cotton-top tamarin toys, which are now sold throughout Colombia, and then those same plush toys—prized possessions—were offered to young people in exchange for the sling shots used to hunt tamarins!
Cash From Trash
Another new business taught women to crochet their traditional mochila bags using an abundant but unnatural resource—trash! Today, more than 3 million plastic bags have been recycled from local forests and communities and turned into beautiful eco-mochila tote bags. Disney’s partnership with Proyecto Tití is not only protecting cotton-tops and their forest habitats, but creating sustainable income for future generations of Colombians—and cleaning up the environment, too!
Disney’s animal care experts recreate the forest habitats and diet of cotton-top tamarins based on their natural history.
Fruits and Vegetables
Wild cotton-top tamarins eat mostly fruits, insects and tree sap, but may occasionally eat bird eggs and lizards. The tamarins get the water they need from the fruits they eat or by licking the morning dew from leaves. Disney nutritionists prepare a nutritionally balanced tamarin diet and supplement it with fruits and vegetables like corn, apples, bananas and grapes. Peanuts, currants and various seeds are given throughout the day for training and enrichment and to stimulate foraging activities. Like some humans, cotton-tops prefer to eat their grapes peeled! Even in the wild they remove the skin of a fruit (or the shell of a seed) and eat only the fleshy part inside.
Enrichment is a key theme at Disney. Our goal is to provide opportunities for the cotton-tops to display natural behaviors like hiding, resting, climbing and exploring while increasing their physical activity and offering real choices like in the wild. Coconut feeders and puzzle feeders containing special treats like carrots, pear, strawberry and kiwi are hung in various locations to encourage problem-solving and foraging. Artificial scents like perfumes or spices are used to provide olfactory variety and encourage scent-marking.
At Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, animal care experts use positive training techniques to teach tamarins to come to a specific location and stand still, called “stationing.” Using a target tool, the animal care experts get the tiny monkeys to step voluntarily on scales to be weighed. Cotton-tops also learn to enter and exit their carriers on cue so that transporting the animals to other areas of the park—for medical treatment or to new exhibits—is a stress-free experience.
The small size of cotton-top tamarins can make many medical procedures challenging. The skilled veterinarians at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park often use medical equipment that has been designed for premature human babies—such as a tiny face mask—in order to provide care for these small, one-pound monkeys.
Cotton-tops are amazing athletes, weighing only 1 pound but able to leap 15 feet from a stationary branch!
Cotton-tops spend most of their time leaping, jumping and climbing through the trees—their main form of transportation—and have been observed leaping almost 15 feet (4.5 m). To accomplish such a jump, they use their strong back legs to spring from one branch and large back feet and elongated thumbnails to catch hold of another.
Made for the Shade
Cotton-top tamarins are beautifully adapted for living in the forest. They use their long tail for balance, and their keen eyesight and excellent depth perception for judging distances when leaping between trees. A strong sense of hearing also helps them identify predatory snakes and birds of prey that are often waiting for them to enter an open area of the forest.
Cotton-tops have a sophisticated language with 38 distinct and grammatically structured calls that they learn from their family. Their repertoire includes 8 different types of chirps—short, high pitched calls used to indicate that food is nearby or to alert others of danger. Other vocalizations include trills, chatters, squeals, screams and whistles.
Cotton-top tamarins live in families typically consisting of a male and female breeding pair and their offspring. Highly social—and territorial—they have a home range of 4 to 14 acres and can travel up to 1.2 miles per day (1.9 km). They spend their day actively protecting their territories from neighboring cotton-tops, with lots of eyes on the lookout for predators.
After a 6-month pregnancy, females usually give birth to twins—once a year in the wild and up to twice a year in zoo environments. Newborns are completely dependent on their families for survival. The entire group helps with childcare, carrying infants on their backs until about 4 months of age, and teaching them everything they will need to know to survive as adults.
Like people, cotton-tops sleep at night. In the wild they have multiple “sleeping trees” but generally do not use the same tree on consecutive nights. They move silently through the forest to avoid attracting any attention to where the group will sleep for the night. The entire group sleeps in the nook of a tree covered with vines to hide from predators.
Cotton-tops eat more than 40 species of fruit, and they usually swallow the seeds! They can swallow seeds as big as peanuts—equivalent to a human swallowing an avocado pit. As tamarins travel through the forest, the seeds are eliminated in their feces, packed in their own natural “fertilizer.” Almost 80% of those seeds later germinate into new plants!
What can you do to help Cotton-Top Tamarins—more than you might think!
Save the Forests
Protect nature and buy recycled, forest-friendly products (like paper and pencils) to help reduce forest destruction.
Buy Tree-Friendly Products
Help reduce waste and litter in the forest by purchasing handmade eco-mochila bags, which help Colombian families earn income and reduce their dependence on forest resources.
Show Your Support
Buy a plush toy cotton-top tamarin from Proyecto Titi, since profits help the conservation group protect the real tamarins.
Focus a school project on cotton-top tamarins, and share the tamarin conservation story with others.
Visit the Websites Below
See how Disney is protecting the cotton-top tamarins—and all the fun, creative ways you can help make a real difference, too!
“I have learned from the animal world, and what everyone will learn who studies it, is a renewed sense of kinship with the Earth and all its inhabitants.” – Walt Disney