Management critically endangered in 2008 by the

Management Techniques of Saguinus Oedipus in Captivity



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Cotton-top Tamarins are one of the most
critically endangered primate species on the planet, they were announced
critically endangered in 2008 by the ICUN (IUCN, 2008).
Their numbers are declining rapidly due to deforestation, logging and the
illegal pet trade (Savage, et al., 2016). To combat the
decline in numbers and to ensure survival of the species, zoos are now trying
to conserve this threatened species. 

An ex situ population has the
opportunity to conserve and restore populations in the wild, zoos with
endangered animals in captivity can raise awareness and funding to help try and
prevent the wild species from becoming extinct in the future (Kleiman, Thomson, & Baer, 2010).

The correct guidelines should be
followed when housing callitrichids, it is important to give cotton-top
tamarins the correct diet, enrichment and housing materials which allow them to
perform natural behaviours (National Research Council, 1998).


structure and captive groupings

Captive cotton-top tamarins live in
groups of 2-14 individuals in the wild and are very social animals, it is
important that they interact well together to survive. In captivity both
tamarin parents will play an active role in rearing their infants, along with
other male members of the group, who will also have their own roles to play in
looking after the youngster. They will take part in carrying the infant around
and will help with the raising of them//* (Price E. , Solitaire: Issue 23 , 2002).

It is important to have the right social
structure when housing cotton-top tamarins, there should be two or more
individuals placed inside an enclosure, there may be a bonded pair in a group
who will dominate over the rest of the group, these will also be the
reproducing pair. It is essential to house all related individuals in a group,
as cotton-tops don’t interact well and show aggression towards non-related
individuals (National Research Council, 1998). If housing non-related
individuals together, prior to mixing it is important that the individuals
become familiar with each other and their surroundings, enabling them to
establish dominance.


and diet (wild and captive)

The cotton-top tamarin is an omnivorous
primate, in captivity they will make up most of their diet with fruit, insects
and small reptiles & eggs wherever possible. They will eat gum and sap, produced
from the trees of the Colombian forest. Cotton-tops get most of their water
from the fruit that they consume, however will also lick moisture from leaves
to keep themselves hydrated (Burton & Burton, 2002).

There are various different fruits in
the tropical forest that the cotton-top has access to, these including banana,
starfruit, sugar apple, and papaya just to name a few, most of these fruits are
not available to them in captivity (Jeff, 2017).

In captivity their diet differs entirely
than that of their wild diet. They have very little fruit in captivity compared
to what they would consume in the wild, their diet is made up mostly of
vegetables. At the Rodbaston Animal Unit their diet is split into three stages,
AM, Midday and PM. They are fed solely on pellets during their AM feed, the
midday feed consists of 40g of green veg, 25g of brassica and 20g of live food.
Their PM meal consists of 25g of root vegetables and 30g of fruit. The root veg
can be steamed for 8-10 minutes, making it more palatable for the animal, steaming
also breaks down starch, making it easier to digest. (Rodbaston, 2017).

It is essential to give captive animals
supplements to make up part of a healthy diet, D3 is added into their diet,
helping support healthy bones, heart and the nervous system. Vitamin D3 is made
up when the body is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun (Warren, 2002). As captive animals don’t get enough
natural sunlight to produce enough D3 in their bodies, they are given a D3 supplement

Cotton top tamarins are gumnivores, they
naturally feed on gum and sap from the trees of the forest in the wild. Robaston
will make up gum from a powder form and add it into the animals’ diet, it is
also used as part of their enrichment. Adding gum into their captive diet enables
them to perform similar behaviours as they naturally would. By placing the gum
into logs or a gum feeder, this recreates the tamarins collecting gum from
inside trees in the wild (Price E. , 1996).


and exhibit

It is essential that all zoos have basic
housing requirements for their animals, such as the right temperature, correct
lighting and allow the animal to express natural behaviours. Cotton-top
tamarins naturally live in humid temperatures, so it is important to try and
recreate this as best as possible for them in captivity. The housing for the
cotton-tops on the Rodbaston animal unit consists of a small enclosure which is
covered in logs and ropes for the cotton tops to utilise, hanging baskets, a
plant in the middle of the room, woodchips on the floor and a nest box high up
in one corner. The wood chips can help protect a cotton-top if they fall from a
high branch or from their nest box. The branches and ropes inside their
enclosure enable the cotton-tops to scent mark, which is a big part of their
communication (Ph.D & Fite, Ph.D., 2005).

To allow the tamarins to express natural
behaviours, the branches inside their enclosure should be placed so that they
can make pathways to their nest box. The nest box should be placed high up
inside the enclosure as cotton-tops have a tendency to sleep all together at
night. Water should be readily available to the tamarins and food should be
scattered around the enclosure to allow them to forage (National Research Council, 1998).

Various different zoos will set out
their enclosures differently, some will have an enriched enclosure, providing
the animal with a realistic environment covered in high trees and plenty of
foliage, enabling the tamarins to climb and jump through their enclosure as
they would in the wild. Whereas other zoos will focus more on providing the
animals with enrichment devices and having a more basic enclosure (Price E. , Solitaire: Issue 23 , 2002).



Food is used as part of enrichment
programmes for most captive species. Food enrichment can keep an animal
occupied and enhance their mental health by providing the animal with activities
to do (Price, 2008).

As cotton-top tamarins are very social
animals and use scent marking as a communication method, it is important not to
remove all of their scents when cleaning their enclosure. A branch that has been
scent marked could be left without cleaning, so that some of the tamarins’
natural odours remain inside the enclosure.  Environmental enrichment can have great
benefits for the cotton-tops by keeping them occupied and prompting natural
behaviours. Popular devices such as gum logs, filled bottles or boxes with
their favourite food or toilet roll cardboard can all be useful enrichment tools
(Wolfe-Coote, 2005).

Food can be a great enrichment device,
it is scattered inside the cotton-tops enclosure as part of their enrichment
programme on the Rodbaston Animal Unit. 18g of eggs are scattered twice a week,
10g of seeds twice a week, and 10g of nuts twice a week (Rodbaston, 2017).


restraint and transport

Capturing callitrichids can be a
difficult task, it needs to be done as gently as possible and with care. They
are caught for many different reasons, they need to be caught for health
checks, for weigh-ins, or for the transportation to the vets for example or if
they are moving from one zoo to another.

Any animal may get stressed out when
trying to restrain and capture them, so the capture and restraint needs to be
done quickly and efficiently to make sure that they are stressed for as little
time as possible.

At Rodbaston some students are given the
opportunity to capture and restrain various different animals on the unit.
Callitrichids are captured every year by staff and some students for a full
health examination and a weight check. Capturing the cotton-top tamarins needs
to be done using thick protective gloves and a net. The net is placed over the
cotton-top tamarins head, he is then held around his neck and rear area to
support the animal, but this also gives the student/keeper a good grip of the
animal. Once the cotton-top is held securely, their microchip is scanned to
find out which animal they are, and then they are weighed. They are placed
inside a cat box whilst the other tamarins are caught and weighed, and are then
all released once each animal has been health examined and weighed. It is very
important that these checks are done extremely carefully and as quickly as
possible as stressing an animal out too much can have detrimental effects and
can even cause death in an animal (Wolfensohn & Lloyd, 2008).




and hand rearing

Cotton top tamarins are usually
monogamous animals, the dominant pair will be the mating pair of a single
group. Mothers will give birth to one or two non-identical twins. The father
and siblings will assist in the raising of the infant/s and will do a lot of
the handling and carrying of the young, handing them back to the mother when
they are ready to be fed (Kostan & Snowdon, 2002). The mother needs
plenty of help when it comes to looking after her infant, due to the infant
being 25% of her body weight (ANGIER, 1994).

Hand-rearing cotton-tops is sometimes
necessary in captivity for various different reasons. For example the mother
could be ill, she could reject the infant or may not be able to cope if she has
a twin birth. Hand rearing is the last resort and is not encouraged due to infants
needing to bond with their mother and the rest of the group, however sometimes
hand-rearing is the only option for the health and safety of the infant. Hand-rearing
takes a lot of time and the infant needs to be reintroduced to the family as
soon as possible. It is always advised to try and keep the infant within the
group, even if it means removing them to feed them and returning them to their
enclosure. Whichever way hand-rearing is done, it needs to be done with extreme
care and needs to be monitored closely as callitrichids who are hand reared can
show aggression and behavioural abnormalities (Anderson, Otto, Pritchett-Corning, & Whary, 2015).

If it is not possible for a young
cotton-top to be fed by its mother, formula feed should be made up and fed to
the infant. They should be held as much as possible to feel secure and should
be stimulated in order to urinate and defecate (Ruppenthal, 2013).  


and Care

In the wild there is usually a single
mating pair of a group of cotton-top tamarins, in captivity a mate is usually
found for an individual to maintain genetic diversity within the captive
species. Female cotton-tops will secrete a pheromone which will stop other
females mating by suppressing ovulation, ensuring that she is the only female
reproducing (Lang, 2005).

Cotton-tops will give birth to a single
individual or twins, and most members of a group will help raise the infants.
In captivity a cotton-top tamarins’ gestation period is around 180 days, there
is a possibility of them having up to four individuals per year in captivity as
they are able to give birth every 6-7 months. With the right conditions and the
correct care cotton-top tamarins can breed well, and tend to have rapid
reproduction rates (Rollin, 1995).

Most zoos will have a breeding programme
which breeds endangered species to try and help maintain a population of a
certain species. The zoo will also assist in preventing the species from going
extinct by ensuring that the population in captivity is thriving. Captive
breeding can boost numbers of an endangered species, with the goal of
reintroducing them and replenish numbers back into the wild and into their
natural habitat. However reintroducing a species back into the wild is a very
expensive and long winded process which doesn’t always work as the species has
become so used to its life in captivity, they rarely survive when reintroduced (MAESTAS, 2011).


and breeding control

There are only three cotton-top tamarin
housed on the Rodbaston animal unit. Breeding in captivity has to be managed,
to prevent inbreeding and any genetic disorders. It is essential that there is
as much genetic diversity as possible when it comes to the breeding of captive
animals. A studbook is used which keeps a record of each captive individual,
such as their sex and ancestry (Bell, 2001). Many zoos will captive breed animals
to try and prevent the species from becoming extinct, especially if they have a
critically endangered status such as the cotton-top tamarin.

A genetically healthy population needs
to be maintained and if the same group of animals were to mate for long periods
of time it would lead to inbreeding and a genetically unhealthy population
(Kleiman, Thomson, & Baer, 2010). Zoos all work together to maintain a
healthy population of animals, so breeding has to be managed carefully. Many
zoos will place all female or all males in one enclosure rather than mixing
sexes, this is one way a zoo can manage the population of their animals. If
breeding were to take place a mate would be selected from a stud book, ensuring
that the offspring has genetic diversity.

Another way to control a population is
by using contraception, this can be administered via injection or an implant,
this way the zoo can manage and decide when the female is to have her offspring
(Asa & Porton , 2005). Rather than using
contraception in the female she can have an ovariectomy or males can be
castrated to prevent them from having any offspring.

A more severe way of population control
in zoos is euthanasia, zoos will often use this method on animals who are no
longer fit to breed and there is no space for them in captivity and they are
not fit to be released into the wild. Euthanasia can be used as a way of
population control and healthy, surplus animals are often killed, especially if
they are no longer fit for mating purposes (Ruivo, 2010).



All keepers should be educated about
preventative medicine and should know the signs of unusual behaviour in any
animal that could mean they are unwell. The cotton-top tamarins on the
Rodbaston Animal unit are worm checked regularly and are only wormed if
necessary.  It is important that the
cotton-tops are examined yearly and vaccinated against any diseases. Staff who
are ill, have cold sores or have come into contact with anyone with measles should
not go near the cotton-tops as they are very prone to pick up human disease and
can become extremely ill (Rees, 2011).
It is important that infant cotton-top tamarins are touched as little as
possible and don’t come into contact with humans often, due to being able to
pick up human diseases and illnesses easily.

The cotton-top tamarins should be
monitored closely for signs of illness or disease, keepers at Rodbaston should
be able to recognise if an animal is not displaying its usual behaviours or is
acting out of the ordinary. Should this be the case a keeper should continue
monitoring the animal closely and should capture the animal to undertake a full
inspection to try and detect what is wrong with the animal. If the animal has a
contagious illness/disease, all other animals inside the same enclosure should
also be treated.

During their yearly examination the
cotton-top tamarins should have a full body health check. It is important that
their teeth are checked as dental issues can lead to other problems such as
abscesses and can cause an animal to be in a great deal of pain, they also may
struggle to eat. If any animal has signs of any dental problems, they should be
taken to a vet to get them examined as soon as possible (Abee, 2012).
A tetanus and rabies vaccination is recommended for captive callitrichids and
should be administered around every two years.

Pest control should be done regularly as
most zoos have pests such as cockroaches and mice inhabiting some of their
enclosures. As cockroaches and mice can transmit disease, it is important to
make sure that enclosures are rid of any vermin as mice are particularly known
to carry diseases that affect callitrichids (Gad, 2006).