The Pied tamarin is white on its shoulders and front, with a striking dark brown back, hind part and upper tail. The fur lightens to a rust color on the lower belly, inner thighs and underside of the tail. The bald head has black skin and the large ears add to the distinguished appearance of this species.
The smallest New World primate, also the smallest monkey, weighs less than five ounces (the only smaller primates are several Madagascan lemurs). Pygmy marmosets occupy a rather large range in the forests of Western South America. Formerly rather rare in zoos, its captive population is now well managed with more than 700 world-wide, mostly captive-bred. It is usual for twins to be born. Despite their tiny size, they can live 20 years in captivity. In the wild, they specialize in eating gummy sap. In captivity, they do quite well on the same diets that larger marmosets and tamarins receive: a manufactured primate diet, fresh fruits and vegetables, and insects.
Of the many kinds of small South American monkeys known as tamarins, most exhibit highly contrasting colors. This species is no exception. Most of its fur is dark, but its feet are bright orange. Another common name is Golden-handed tamarin, reflecting its scientific name, which commemorates King Midas and his mythical golden touch. This monkey is abundant in its Northeastern South American Range.
Of the two subspecies of Emperor tamarins, this one, with a dark tail and no beard, is the less common in captivity. It is found in a small area of Brazil and Peru. Like other tamarins, the male takes care of the twins (the most common sort of birth), giving them to the female only to nurse. They usually stay with their family group (led by a dominant female) for around two years.
Forty years ago, this magnificent monkey appeared on its way to extinction, both in its native Atlantic Coastal Forest of Brazil and in zoos as well. The wild population fell to less than 600, and in zoos, the number of deaths exceeded births. Over the next decade, improvements were made in zoo management, so that from a low of around 75, a self-sustaining population, today numbering nearly 500 world-wide, has been established. Through the reintroduction of captive-bred animals and habitat preservation, there are more than 1,000 in the wild.