Leontopithecus chrysomelas


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Leontopithecus chrysomelas
Species Authority: (Kuhl, 1820)
Common Name(s):
English Golden-headed Lion Tamarin
Spanish Tamarino León De Cabeza Dorada
Leontopithecus chrysomela (Kuhl, 1820) [orth. error]
Taxonomic Notes: The lion tamarins, Leontopithecus, are listed as separate species following Della Serra (1951), Rosenberger and Coimbra-Filho (1984), Mittermeier et al. (1988), Natori (1989), and Rylands et al. (1993). They have been listed as subspecies of L. rosalia by Coimbra-Filho and Mittermeier (1972, 1973), Hershkovitz (1977), Mittermeier and Coimbra-Filho (1981), Forman et al. (1986) and Seuánez et al. (1988), the latter two publications on the basis of identical chromosome morphologies.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2c ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Kierulff, M.C.M., Rylands, A.B., Mendes. S.L. & de Oliveira, M.M.
Reviewer(s): Mittermeier, R.A. & Rylands, A.B. (Primate Red List Authority)
This species is listed as Endangered due to a severe population reduction which is estimated to be greater than 50% over the past 3 generations (21 years) due primarily to high rates of forest loss in the Atlantic Forest. Remaining populations are severely fragmented.
2003 Endangered
2000 Endangered
1996 Endangered
1996 Endangered

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: A species of the Atlantic forest, in forest fragments in the state of Bahia, and at least formerly in extreme northeastern Minas Gerais. The distribution of L. chrysomelas originally extended between the Rio de Contas (northern limit) and the Rio Pardo (southern limit) in southern Bahia (Coimbra-Filho and Mittermeier 1977), but it has also been found south of the Rio Pardo along its middle reaches to the Rio Jequitinhonha on the border between the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais; probably a recent range extension due to forest destruction and the silting of the Rio Pardo (Rylands et al. 1988, 1991/1992). In the north-west, it occurs on both banks of the lower Rio Gongoji, a southern tributary of the Rio de Contas, but along its middle reaches, it is limited to the west of the river, and to the west of the Rio Novo. It crosses the Rio Gongoji, westward, again at its headwaters, occurring in the basin of the Rio Catolé Grande, a northern tributary of the Rio Pardo, which forms the westernmost extent of its range (Pinto and Rylands 1997). The western limits are defined by vegetational changes (mesophytic forest changing to liana forest in the west of its range) associated with an increase in altitude approaching the plateau of Vitoria da Conquista. The westernmost point is about 150 km from the coast. To the south, L. chrysomelas crosses the Rio Pardo, occurring in the lower basin of the Rio Maiquinique and east of the Córrego Pau Grande, south to the Rio Jequitinhonha in extreme north-east Minas Gerais (Pinto and Rylands 1997). The range of the Golden-headed Lion Tamarin extends over approximately 19,000 km².

There are two lacunae in the range, one in the north near the coast south of the lower Rio de Contas to the mouth of the Rio Ilhéus, and the other between the lower reaches of the Rio Pardo and the Rio Jequitinhonha (Pinto and Tavares 1994; Pinto and Rylands 1997). Coimbra-Filho and Mittermeier (1973, 1977) argued that the original range of L. chrysomelas extended south only to the Rio Pardo, and that deforestation and the silting up of the river (see Coimbra-Filho and Câmara 1996) has resulted in lion tamarins crossing it along its middle reaches in recent times (the last century), thus explaining its presence there today, and its absence between the Jequitinhonha and Pardo downriver, further east. There is no obvious explanation for the absence of L. chrysomelas between the Rio de Contas and Ilhéus to the north-east of its range.
Brazil (Bahia)
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The total wild population is estimated at 6,000-15,000 animals (Pinto 1994; Pinto and Rylands 1997). The estimated population in the Una Biological Reserve (7,059 ha) is about 400-450 individuals.

Recorded population densities include 5.0 individuals/km² in the Una Biological Reserve (Dietz et al. 1996), and 5.0-17.0 individuals/km² or 0.90-3.0 groups/km² in Lemos Maia Experimental Sytation, Una, Bahia (Rylands, 1982, 1989).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Lowland seasonal rain forest of the Atlantic coast of Brazil, restinga and white sand piaçava forest, and secondary forest. Also know to use cabruca - cacao plantations which are shaded with some few native trees remaining from the original forest. They have been observed in secondary growth forest in abandoned rubber plantations, but evidently always require old-growth forest for its abundance of tree holes, which they use as sleeping sites, and epiphytic bromeliads, which are key foraging sites. Lion tamarins are an adaptable species well able to live in degraded and secondary forests, depending on sufficient year round food sources and foraging sites, along with the tree holes they use as sleeping sites (see Coimbra-Filho 1969, 1976; Coimbra-Filho and Mittermeier 1973). Near the coast, in the cocoa growing region, there is no distinct dry season wth rainfall exceeding 2,000 mm a year (the heaviest rains are from March to June), but in the west of their range the forests are mesophytic with a distinct dry season, and in some areas the forests are semideciduous, with rainfall as low as 1,000 mm a year (Rylands 1989; Pinto and Rylands 1997).

Marmosets and tamarins are distinguished from the other monkeys of the New World by their small size, modified claws rather than nails on all digits except the big toe, the presence of two as opposed to three molar teeth in either side of each jaw, and by the occurrence of twin births. They eat fruits, flowers, nectar, plant exudates (gums) and animal prey (including frogs, snails, lizards, spiders and insects (see Rylands 1993; Kierulff et al. 2002a).

Kierulff et al. (2002a) provide a comprehensive review of the behavioural ecology of the lion tamarins. They differ from other callithrichids in having long fingers and hands, which allow them to forage for prey efficiently in nooks and crannies and in epiphytic tank bromeliads. Lion tamarins live in extended family groups of usually 4 to 8 individuals. Four groups observed by Rylands (1989) had a mean size of 6.7 (range 5-8) individuals. Generally, only one female per group breeds during a particular breeding season. They breed once a year. The groups defend home ranges of 40 to more than 100 ha (the size depending on availability and distribution of foods and second-growth patches). A group studied by Rylands (1982, 1989) in the Lemos Maia Experimental Station, Una, used a home range of about 40 ha. Home ranges in the Una Biological Reserve were found to be larger, from 90 to more than 100 ha (Dietz et al. 1996). The smaller home range of the group in Lemos Maia may have have been due to a higher availability of food due to surrounding secondary forest.

French et al. (2002) review the reproductive biology of lion tamarins, Baker et al. (2002) review their mating system and group dynamics (focussing particularly on L. rosalia) and Tardif et al. (2002) aspects of infant care and development.

Adult male 620 g (n=2) (Rosenberger and Coimbra-Filho 1984)
Adult female 535 g (n=6) (Rosenberger and Coimbra-Filho 1984).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): With records of over 100 localities where L. chrysomelas still occur through the region bounded by the Rio de Contas in the north and the Rio Jequitinhonha in the south, more populations remain than of all the other three lion tamarin species combined. However, the remaining forests are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate for the region and the populations surviving are seriously depleted and fragmented. An important aspect which has contributed to the more favourable situation of the Golden-headed Lion Tamarin is the traditional and fairly widespread use of the “cabruca” system for shading cacao trees. Some of the original canopy trees are left standing, and this allows for connectivity between forest patches. If well managed, this could be an important management tool for future conservation efforts.

Threats to Golden-headed Lion Tamarins come from socio-economic transformations resulting from the difficulties of the cocoa industry (low prices and disease epidemics), that have dominated the region over the last 15 years, resulting in the expansion of alternative crops, notably African palm oil and coconuts (Alger and Caldas 1994). In the west of its range, the forest is increasingly destroyed and fragmented as a result of cattle ranching (Pinto 1994; Pinto and Rylands 1997).

A study by Dietz et al. (2000) examined inbreeding depression in small (50 or less) isolated populations of L. rosalia. They concluded that it reduced probability of long-term survival by about one-third. There is every reason to believe that inbreeding depression is likewise prejudicial to the isolated populations of L. chrysomelas, most especially in the western half of its range where forest fragmentation is extreme (Pinto and Rylands, 1997).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Included on the Brazilian Official List of Species Threatened with Extinction (Lista Oficial de Espécies Brasileiras Ameaçadas de Extinção, Edict No. 1.522/19th December 1989, see Bernardes et al., 1990; Fonseca et al., 1994), and likewise on the regional threatened species list of the state of Minas Gerais (Machado et al., 1998). It is listed on Appendix I of CITES.

The Una Biological Reserve (18,500 ha), created to protect L. chrysomelas, has an estimated population of about 400-450 animals, and a key strategy which has guided conservation efforts over the last decade has been to promote the preservation of the forests adjacent to the Reserve (Alger and Araújo 1996; Alger et al. 1996; Blanes and Mallinson 1997; Santos and Blanes 1997, 1999). Besides the Una Biological Reserve, this species also occurs in: Serra sa Lontras National Park (16,800 ha), Una Wildlife Refuge (23,000 ha), Lemos Maia Experimental Station (CEPLAC/CEPEC) (495 ha), and Canavieiras Experimental Station (CEPLAC/CEPEC) (500 ha).

There is a well-managed captive breeding programme for L. chrysomelas with a good founder stock (Ballou et al. 2002). Although not currently contributing directly to the conservation of Golden-headed Lion Tamarins in the wild, the captive population of L. chrysomelas, which arose from animals confiscated from illegal trade in the 1980s (Mallinson 1984; Konstant 1986), is an important genetic reservoir: a guarantee of a portion of the genetic variation in this species, while the wild populations continue to decline with ongoing deforestation.

Bibliography [top]

Alger, K. and Araújo, M. 1996. Desmatamento dos últimos remanescentes florestais próximos à Reserva Biológica de Una: uma ameaça à biodiversidade e à economia local. Alternativas Econômicas para Conservação e Desenvolvimento da Região de Una, Bahia, Resumos das Pesquisas 1994-1995,, pp. 2-5. Instituto de Estudos Sócio-ambientais do Sul da Bahia (IESB), Ilhéus, Brazil.

Alger, K. and Caldas, M. 1994. The declining cocoa economy and the Atlantic forest of southern Bahia, Brazil: conservation attitudes of cocoa planters. The Environmentalist 14: 107-119.

Alger, K., Araújo, M., Trevizan, S. and dos Santos, G. 1996. Dinâmica do uso da terra no entorno da Reserva Biológica de Una. Alternativas Econômicas para Conservação e Desenvolvimento da Região de Una, Bahia, Resumos das Pesquisas 1994-1995, pp. 12-16. Instituto de Estudos Sócio-ambientais do Sul da Bahia (IESB), Ilhéus, Brazil.

Baker, A. J., Bales, K. and Dietz, J. M. 2002. Mating system and group dynamics in lion tamarins. In: D. G. Kleiman and A. B. Rylands (eds), The Lion Tamarins of Brazil, pp. 188-212. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Ballou, J. D., Kleiman, D. G., Mallinson, J. J. C., Rylands, A. B., Valladares-Padua, C. and Leus, K. 2002. History, management and conservation role of the captive lion tamarin populations. In: D. G. Kleiman and A. B. Rylands (eds), Lion Tamarins: Biology and Conservation, pp. 95–114. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Bernardes, A. T., Machado, A. B. M. and Rylands, A. B. (eds). 1990. Fauna brasileira ameaçada de extinção. pp. 65 pp.. Fundação Biodiversitas, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Biodiversitas (ed.). 1998. Livro vermelho das espécies ameaçadas de extinção da fauna de Minas Gerais.In: A.B.M. Machado, G.A.B. da Fonseca, R.B. Machado, L.M.S. Aguiar and L.V. Lins (eds), Fundação Biodiversitas, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Blanes, J. and Mallinson, J. J. C. 1997. Landowner’s Environmental Education Program for Una and surrounding areas.

Coimbra-Filho, A. F. 1969. Mico-leão, Leontideus rosalia (Linnaeus, 1766), situação atual da espécie no Brasil (Callithricidae - Primates). Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 41: 29-52.

Coimbra-Filho, A. F. 1976. Os sagüis do gênero Leontopithecus Lesson, 1840 (Callithricidae - Primates). Master’s Thesis, Universidade Federal do Rio Janeiro.

Coimbra-Filho, A. F. and Câmara, I. de G. 1996. Os Limites Originais do Bioma Mata Atlântica na Região Nordeste do Brasil. Fundação Brasileira para a Conservação da Natureza, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Coimbra-Filho, A. F. and Mittermeier, R. A. 1972. Taxonomy of the genus Leontopithecus Lesson, 1840. In: D. D. Bridgwater (ed.), Saving the Lion Marmoset, pp. 7-22. Wild Animal Propagation Trust, Wheeling, West Virginia, USA.

Coimbra-Filho, A. F. and Mittermeier, R. A. 1973. Distribution and ecology of the genus Leontopithecus Lesson, 1840 in Brazil. Primates 14: 47-66.

Coimbra-Filho, A. F. and Mittermeier, R. A. 1977. Conservation of the Brazilian lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia). In: H. S. H. Prince Rainier III of Monaco and G. H. Bourne (eds), Primate Conservation, pp. 59-94. Academic Press, New York, USA.

da Fonseca, G. A. B., Rylands, A. B., Costa, C. M. R., Machado, R. B. and Leite, Y. L. R. 1994. Livro dos Mamíferos Brasileiros Ameaçados de Extinção. Fundação Biodiversitas, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Della Serra, O. 1951. Divisão do gênero Leontocebus (Macacos, Platyrrhini) em dois subgêneros sob bases de caracteres dento-morfológicos. Papéis Avulsos Zoologia, São Paulo 10(8): 147-154.

Dietz, J. M., Baker, A. J. and Ballou, J. D. 2000. Demographic evidence of inbreeding depression in wild golden lion tamarins. In: A. G. Young and G. M. Clarke (eds), Genetics, Demography, and Viability of Fragmented Populations, pp. 203-211. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Dietz, J. M., de Sousa, S. N. and Billerbeck, R. 1996. Population dynamics of golden-headed lion tamarins Leontopithecus chrysomelas in Una Reserve, Brazil. Dodo, Journal of the Wildlife Preservation Trusts 32: 115-122.

Dos Santos, G. R. and Blanes, J. 1997. Community environmental education in Brazil. Dodo, Journal of Wildlife Preservation Trusts 33: 118-126.

dos Santos, G. R. and Blanes, J. 1999. Environmental education as a strategy for conservation of the remnants of Atlantic forest surrounding Una Biological Reserve, Brazil. Dodo, Journal of Wildlife Preservation Trusts 35: 151-157.

Forman, L., Kleiman, D. G., Bush, R. M., Dietz, J. M., Ballou, J. D., Phillips, L. G., Coimbra-Filho, A. F. and O'Brien, S. J. 1986. Genetic variation within and among lion tamarins. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 71: 1-11.

French, J. A., De Vleeschouwer, K., Bales, K. and Heistermann, M. 2002. Lion tamarin reproductive biology. In: D. G. Kleiman and A. B. Rylands (eds), The Lion Tamarins of Brazil, pp. 133-156. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Hershkovitz, P. 1977. Living New World monkeys (Platyrrhini), with an introduction to Primates. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

Kierulff, M. C. M., Raboy, B., Procópio de Oliveira, P., Miller, M., Passos, F. de C. and Prado, F. 2002. Behavioral ecology of Leontopithecus. In: D. G. Kleiman and A. B. Rylands (eds), The Lion Tamarins of Brazil, pp. 157-187. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Konstant, W. R. 1986. Illegal trade in golden-headed lion tamarins. Primate Conservation 7: 29-30.

Mallinson, J. J. C. 1984. Golden-headed lion tamarin contraband a major conservation problem. IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group Newsletter 4: 23-25.

Mittermeier, R. A., Rylands, A. B. and Coimbra-Filho, A. F. 1988. Systematics: species and subspecies - an update. In: R. A. Mittermeier, A. B. Rylands, A. F. Coimbra-Filho and G. A. B. da Fonseca (eds), Ecology and Behavior of Neotropical Primates, pp. 13-75. World Wildlife Fund, Washington, DC, USA.

Natori, M. 1989. An analysis of cladistic relationships of Leontopithecus based on dental and cranial characters. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Nippon 97(2): 157-167.

Pinto, L. P. S. 1994. Distribuição Geográfica, População e Estado de Conservação do Mico-leão-de-cara-dourada, Leontopithecus chrysomelas (Callitrichidae, Primates). Master’s Thesis, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.

Pinto, L. P. S. and Rylands, A. B. 1997. Geographic distribution of the golden-headed lion tamarin, Leontopithecus chrysomelas: implications for its management and conservation. Folia Primatologica 68: 161-180.

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Rylands, A. B. 1993. The ecology of the lion tamarins, Leontopithecus: some intrageneric differences and comparisons with other callitrichids. In: A. B. Rylands (ed.), Marmosets and Tamarins: Systematics, Behaviour, and Ecology, pp. 296–313. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

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Tardif, S. D., Santos, C. V., Baker, A. J., Van Elsacker, L., Feistner, A. T. C., Kleiman, D. G., Ruiz-Miranda, C. R., Moura, A. C. de A., Passos, F. de C., Price, E. C., Rapaport, L. and De Vleeschouwer, K. 2002. Infant care in lion tamarins. In: D. G. Kleiman and A. B. Rylands (eds), The Lion Tamarins of Brazil, pp. 213-232. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Citation: Kierulff, M.C.M., Rylands, A.B., Mendes. S.L. & de Oliveira, M.M. 2008. Leontopithecus chrysomelas. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 03 September 2015.
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