Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Expert Finds Species on Border of Extinction

Cotton-top tamarins at Rafiki's Planet Watch in Disney's Animal Kingdom © DisneyA tiny Colombian primate known for its distinctive punk-rock hairstyle is in imminent danger of extinction, according to new research done by an animal expert at Walt Disney World Resort. The findings paint the clearest picture yet of a dwindling population at risk.

The endangered cotton-top tamarin is found in a small area of northwest Colombia. According to the research featured in the journal Nature Communication, there are now just 7,000 of the species left in the wild.

“Everything we do at Disney’s Animal Kingdom revolves around caring for wildlife and wild places,” said Dr. Ann Savage, senior conservation biologist at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. “Our research project is an example of the leading edge work our animal experts are doing around the world. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, all of us are committed to using new technologies and new techniques to study animals.”

Cotton-top tamarins are threatened by habitat destruction, where natural forest is converted to cattle pasture, and trees are used for housing and fuel. They are also captured as part of an illegal wildlife trade.

Averaging about ten inches long, cotton-tops are tiny in size and hard to see since they live high up in the forest canopies and flee at the first sign of people. Before the study, there was no reliable estimate of how many of these animals are left in the wild and no feasible method of counting them.

However, Dr. Savage knew that cotton-tops tamarins were attracted to the sound of tamarin vocalizations. That proved to be the key to surveying the shy animal. So Dr. Savage, working with Dr. Len Thomas of St. Andrews University in Scotland, developed a technique of playing recordings of cotton-top tamarin calls and counting the animals that came to find the source of the vocalization. Because of the work of Dr. Savage and Dr. Thomas, cotton-top tamarins are now on the list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates.

Guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom can spot the cotton-top tamarin shortly after stepping off the train at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, where they can also learn what’s being done to protect the species.

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