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.
Though it is not at all rare in its native Northeastern South America, this startling-looking monkey has always been very rare in zoos. It had a reputation for being delicate in captivity, but since their arrival in Dallas in 2010, the ones at the DWA have proved robust, and have already produced offspring. They differ from White-faced sakis (whose tails usually hang straight down) by the continuous motion of their remarkably squirrel-like tails.
At times, the DWA troop of Red howler monkeys, unique in North America, are heard long before they are seen. The mechanical-sounding, rumbling growl is produced by an enormous larynx (voice box) and can be heard three miles away. The only animal sound that is louder is made by Blue whales. The howlers are often next to the ceiling of their high enclosure. While this South American primate was notorious for being difficult to keep in zoos, it has done well at the DWA, where a number have been born and raised.
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.