Meet the Amazing Cotton-Top Tamarins

Cotton-top tamarins are a species of primates that is critically endangered. Currently, conservation efforts are carried out in Colombia. 
Meet the Amazing Cotton-Top Tamarins

Last update: 22 April, 2019

Cotton-top tamarins are a symbol for the country of Colombia, but the species is in serious danger of extinction. The conservation of this small primate has to be a priority in this Latin American country. 

Meet the cotton-top tamarins

The cotton-top tamarin, also know as the cotton-tailed tamarin or white-headed marmoset (Sanguinus oedipus), is a Callithrichidae. This is the group of primates to which all marmosets belong.

The cotton-top tamarin is a primate that eats fruits, nectar and fresh leaves, as well as insects. They live in groups of 3 to 13 individuals, on the edge of the Colombian jungles.

These animals are very interesting looking. They have a white mane that goes from their forehead to their neck, a brown back, and a tail that changes from orange to black. Additionally, they have a gray face and white extremities.

This is a cotton-top tamarin.

Like other marmosets, they practice communal breeding where several animals of the group participate in the breeding, but the daughters aren’t allowed to reproduce in the presence of their mother.

Its main predators are raptors, but they also tend to flee in the presence of Capuchin monkeys. Before they flee, they will emit alerting sounds. They can produce more than 40 different types of calls. 

Threats to this species

This species is one of the most threatened primates in the world, and it’s also one of the most alarming cases of endangered species. Its biggest threat was animal experimentation. At the end of the 70s, while being used to study colon adenocarcinoma, between 20,000 and 40,000 specimens were taken from their homes.

Of course, in today’s day and age, they no longer capture wild animals for this purpose. However, this study was a huge blow to the cotton-top tamarin population. Currently, their main threats are deforestation due to industrial livestock, as well as being captured to be sold as pets. 

Thanks to the census that the Tití Project prepared in 2005, the species is now classified as an animal in critical danger of extinction. This was necessary to initiate timely protection measures to conserve the tamarins in Colombia. These measures were especially necessary in the northwest of the country, between the Magdalena River and the Atrato.

Cotton-top tamarins on top of one another.


Those are the reasons why cotton-top tamarins need conservation projects. And so, as of right now, two natural parks have been given the responsibility of protecting the species in the cities of Atlántico and Bolivar. These parks protect almost 5000 acres of land for the conservation of this species. 

Colombia is one of the hot spots for biodiversity, but it’s also one of the countries with the highest deforestation rates. The country loses more than 2500 square miles of forest per year, something that affects the habitat greatly.

The flooding of these forests, due to hydroelectric projects, also affects the conservation of the tamarins. Although this isn’t deforestation, it still affects the cotton-top tamarins in the same way.

This conservation project doesn’t only work directly with this species. The foundation also has several projects in schools and institutes. They work to educate young Colombians on the conservation of this species, as well as to encourage them to get involved with the conservation efforts.

We have to work to create economic alternatives that promote the defense of the environment. For example, creating fuel blocks with recycled paper, fertilizer and wood chips to reduce deforestation, recycling plastics to create posts, or manufacturing handicrafts and stuffed animals by the indigenous people.

It’s all in our hands.

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  • Savage, 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 Primatology72(5), 379-390.