There is a pavilion at the Toronto Zoo called the “Americas Pavilion” which, as you can probably imagine, is often thought to be named “America’s Pavilion” and to contain nothing but animals from the USA or thereabouts. Rather, the species who live there inhabit every part of the Americas, the land mass on the western edge of the Atlantic ocean. As you walk through the pavilion you effectively travel from South America, through Central America, up into Mexixo, then the US, and end up in Canada just short of the tree line (above which is represented by the Tundra Trek area of the Zoo). There are brilliant birds and bromeliads to greet you as you enter through the eastern doors and pass through the free-flight aviary. From there you proceed past a pair of spectacled owls and several snakes of the Caribbean, then up into Mexico and southern USA with lizards of various species, through the Great Plains (prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets) and on past that most Canadian of rodents: the beaver. But if you follow your nose and take the path to the right of the spectacled owls instead of passing the snakes directly, you will find yourself in a small area reserved for some of the primates of the tropical regions of the Americas – and a couple of friends living among them.
One of these monkeys immediately stands out in the subdued lighting of this area: the golden lion tamarin. Now, if you can look at the photo at the right and honestly tell me you can’t figure out how this animal got at least 2/3 of its name, then perhaps you might consider a different sort of photo calendar for 2018 – maybe, say, shiny keys or something. Ha ha! But seriously, the “golden” aspect is what makes them noticeable as soon as you come upon the enclosures. The “lion” part comes from their mane-like facial hair, and “lion tamarins” – of which there are four species – are actually a separate genus (leontopithecus) from every other type of tamarin in the world, numbering 26 in all. They are all types of what are called “New World Monkeys,” and they reside in South America, Central America, and Mexico, with golden lion tamarins being found only in a very small region of coastal southeastern Brazil, in the rainforest.
Two of the other three enclosures in this part of the pavilion house members of the same family (Callitrichidae) as the tamarins: the common and pygmy marmosets. At this time the Zoo has only one pygmy marmoset in its visible collection, but several commons who live in the enclosure next to the tamarins. They once shared their space with a two-toed sloth by the name of Tania, but she passed away last year and, while that theoretically gives them more room (she wasn’t often in their “space”, to be fair) it is a great deal less fun than it used to be. For more on what I mean by that statement, please take a look (if you haven’t already) at my blog post for October’s animal in the “Chillin’ with Animals” calendar: Sally the sloth. Common marmosets originally lived only in the northeastern part of Brazil but have in the past 100 or so years become an invasive species in other parts of the country, including the habitat of the golden lion tamarin, contributing to their struggle to not go extinct.
At one point in time, the wild population of golden lion tamarins dwindled to fewer than 200 and they were listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN in 1996; however, strong conservation and reintroduction efforts their numbers have made a small comeback. In 2003 they were upgraded to “endangered” and recent surveys suggest there are approximately 3500 of these tiny primates in the wild currently. That’s a feel-good story, of course; however, the rampant destruction of the Brazilian rainforests (and, indeed, rainforests everywhere) continues virtually unabated and the IUCN warn that wild populations have virtually no opportunity for habitat expansion and may have maxed out their numbers at this point. Habitat destruction is a huge, huge issue for all of the species on Earth – homo sapiens included – and no matter how cute my photos are and how I try to pass along the best stories I can come up with in these posts, the fact remains that it would be extremely irresponsible of me to just brush past the mass extinction event that we currently stand at the precipice of. It’s so incredibly overwhelming that many people simply can’t take it all in so they just pay it little attention; I always encourage anyone I speak to at the Zoo or anywhere ecology and conservation is discussed to just start small and pick one or two things you can change right now. Once that becomes second nature – and you will be surprised how quickly that happens – choose one or two more. It’s absolutely the only chance we have to slow and maybe even stop our race to oblivion.
Ok, now about that “follow your nose” comment. All the primates in this pavilion – and anywhere else you come upon them, in general – scent mark the boundaries of their territory. And because there are four different kinds of monkeys in here (white-faced saki is the fourth), there are four different kinds of smells. Bad smells. Really, really harshly awful urine smells. And it always strikes me as funny that I could spend literally hours in the Indian rhino barn without any issue with the odour (while 98% of the guests who enter immediately comment about how bad it smells), but am affected to the point of nearly gagging when I visit the primates in the Americas Pavilion, and yet I almost never see anyone else complaining about it. I’m not sure what this says about my genetic makeup overall, but I don’t think I want to delve into it too far. You know, just in case. In any event, did I mention it smells bad in there? It does. Bad. But please do visit when you can! You’ll probably not even notice it and these little monkeys really are a pleasure to see and watch. Oh, and speaking of monkeys: regular readers of my blog posts or visitors to my Zoo tours will know what makes these animals “monkeys” and not “apes” – and it’s not their size. In case you don’t fall into one of those categories, here’s the difference: monkeys have tails and apes do not. Easy-peasy. (My old Day Captain would be very proud of me right now!)
By the way, plans for the future of the Toronto Zoo include moving the animals up from the Canadian Domain, combining them (I believe) with others currently residing in the Americas Pavilion, and relocating them all to a new section of the Zoo called Canada Wilds, which will be nestled between the Tundra Trek and Eurasia Wilds. The current Americas Pavilion would be renamed the American Rainforest Pavilion (to follow the lead of the Indomalayan Rainforest and African Rainforest Pavilions) and be inhabited by only animals and plants from the tropical areas of the Americas. I love this idea; do keep an eye out for it in future announcements from the Zoo. My best guess is it will take about five years for this to come to fruition; the orangutan outdoor exhibit is next on the agenda.
Well, that wraps up another year of animal posts. I promise to continue these for at least one more year, whether or not you have bought a calendar for 2018. I have no plans to make these posts “protected” so please do remember to check back next year! I know 2017 has been an excruciatingly difficult year for so many of us, so I wish you all the best for the New Year and let’s all see if we can’t start with a clean slate. Cheers!