Well, they’re not dogs. Or cats. Or domestic animals of any kind. But I spent two years working with Cotton Top Tamarins and hearing my university BFF describe how she is continuing her work with them was one of the highlights of my trip to Florida.
Anne Savage, Senior Conservation Biologist at Disney World, has been studying Cotton Top Tamarins in the wild since graduate school at UW-Madison. She and I worked together with the squirrel-sized monkeys in the lab of Charles Snowdon, who did non-intrusive behavioral research on their vocalizations and reproductive behavior. The lab was committed to letting them live in family groups (rare at the time) in enriched environments (also rare at the time) and Anne and I spent many a night planning how to improve their environment, help young mothers raise their babies (adolescents aren’t always so good at it in many species) and working with the vets to deal with illnesses and rare injuries. We designed probably the first functional incubator for rejected baby Cotton Tops and worked hard to eliminate the need for them in the first place.
The species has to work hard at reproduction: Female Cotton Tops usually have twins–rare for a monkey–and become pregnant just days after giving birth. So the females have to produce milk for twins while they are also gestating a new set, which is why the males do most of the carrying of the young. Chuck’s lab learned that the species must be kept in family groups to thrive, because adolescents have to learn to transfer and carry the infants before they give birth themselves or assist a female in raising the young. Watching youngsters figure out how to transfer a baby from one back to another provided endless amusement for us.
Here’s an old photo from the lab of a male carrying 2 very young infants on his back. (Did I mention they are the cutest monkeys that ever lived?) Those two little white triangles on either side of the male’s head are the babies clinging to his back. You can see from the photo that the monkeys had real wood to walk on (that was a fight with the authorities!), but by the time we left the entire cage was full of ropes and plants and toys. It was gratifying work and I learned so much doing it.
I worked with the monkeys for two years between undergrad and graduate school (when I studied vocalizations from professional animal handlers to working domestic animals), and Anne went on to do field work in Columbia on CT’s as an endangered species. If you ever meet her, ask her how she talked machine gun-toting rebels who invaded her research station and threatened to kill or kidnap her into helping her with the research instead. Seriously. That’s Anne. She’s continued the research ever since, working toward conserving the forest for the monkeys by not just trying to discourage forest destruction, but by organizing economic opportunities for the locals to enable them to make a good living and still conserve the forest around them. You can read more about it on Proyecto Titi (Titi is the local name for CTs). One of the most impressive projects is organizing businesses for women making “eco-mochillas,” or environmentally friendly bags crocheted from the endless amount of plastic that pollutes the villages in Columbia (and Kenya, and Rwanda, etc etc etc). (I bought 2 in Disney World, and you could too when you go, or buy them off their website. I’m just saying….) So it helps conserve the forest, protects the Cotton Top Tamarins, provides an income for the residents and decreases pollution. I’d call that a win/win/win/win. Here’s a much better photo of a Cotton Top:
It was also fun to hear about the plans for an Avatar experience at Animal Kingdom. Now that will be worth checking out (2014 I think?). And there’s lots of other great research going on in the Conservation Biology Dept; check out this work that uses elephant’s dislike of bees to keep elephants from destroying crop land of villagers. Very creative.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm. Willie and Tootsie are doing really well. Willie adored the male of the house sitting couple, and seems to be relaxed and back to himself. The sitter did say that he seemed obsessed with Sushi, but when I got back the issue went back to being easily managed. He’ll begin to stalk her but can be easily distracted and stays calm and relaxed once he is. Willie’s leg and shoulder seem really good, although (of course), just when I was consciously thinking “Oh my, he really is almost sound again” this afternoon, he slid a bit on the snow and yelped, then held up his left paw. For a second I died a thousand deaths, but he went right back to using it normally again. I can’t find the slightest hitch in his gait, but of course, I’ll be extra careful tonight, and do lots of massage on it and hold off on his exercises until tomorrow.
Mostly, I just have to say that I truly enjoyed all the wonderful people I met in Florida and am grateful to so many people who made it a great experience AND I’m sooooo glad to be home!!!! I love my farm, I love my animals, I love Wisconsin, and yes yes yes, right now, I love snow!
IRT the previous discussion of fear, and comforting fearful dogs, Suzanne Clothier (I assume you 2 appreciate each other since your humane loving approaches are similar) posted this little part of her lecture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJ8ugSSTNmM&feature=youtube_gdata_player
What a great post all the way around (well, except for Willie slipping on the ice! Hope he’s OK). It’s fun to think that Disney is making an Avatar park, hopefully they do a really good job. And the info about bees/elephants was very interesting and hopeful. Thanks for sharing!
I live in central Florida and found out the day before you were going to be here…it was a little too late to make the trip. DANG!
I have been working with animals for many years but recently am getting more and more interested in learning about human/animal communication, dog training and behavior modification. I worked with Cotton Top Tamarin’s too!!!!!!!!, but in a very different setting… Here in Florida, I was an intern at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary(gainesville, fl). They take in South American primates: Cotton tops, Marmosets, Capuchin, Spider and Squirrel monkeys that were previous pets or in laboratory research and give them wonderful habitats to live out the rest of their lives in, since they can’t successfully go into the wild 🙁
It was by far one of the most humbling, awe-inspiring experiences of my life, primates are so incredibly awesome! I was in charge of “Munchkin-Land” while i was there, which meant feeding/cleaning/observing/socializing with the Tamarins and Marmosets. So awesome!
If you ever come back to central Florida, you’ll have to go there and get a tour!!! They arent open to the public but they will do tours for special requests and often they have fun events there. They do a lot of outreach about the dangers and cruelness of invasive animal testing and keeping monkeys as pets. Real great people, very conscious. They’ve got some awesome rescue dogs that live there, too!
If you get a chance, you’ll want to check out their website, awesome pics and videos:
Well, I will be following your blog as I am diving into learning all that I can about human/animal bonds and communication, etc. I read The Other End of the Leash and am now almost done with For the Love of a Dog- I am loving every minute of them, you sure do know how to write engaging books!!!!! Thank you!
Betsey F says
So nice to see some primates that have the guys doing serious childcare!
Jan Standish says
Fascinating CT’s and elephants and bees! I love these links, plus your photos are always a visual treat!!
Interesting that these are called titis in some areas.
There are several New World monkeys that are normally called titis, which are not tamarins (they are more closely related uakaris, my favorite New World primates), and they are finding new species of titi every couple of years.
Rebecca Fouts says
My uncle owns an exotic animal haven and endangered species breeding farm in Kansas. I grew up on the farm, and one summer when I was about 15, my chore was to care for over 200 Cotton Tops and Golden-Handed Tamarin breeding pairs which had been bought from a lab. Fun little guys. So animated.
We had one feisty little guy who would always slam the bottom of his tray when you’d try to feed him or open the tray to clean the newspaper — and then try to escape. And when he would succeed in his escape attempts, he’d proceed to chase you. You’d say to yourself, “you’re bigger than he is — by a LOT – WHY are YOU running away from him!?” And still, he could be down right intimidating, running at you, barking his little head off. And they got needle sharp teeth! If he caught you, he’d bite right through your jeans.
One occasion he got out and I got chased clear out of the room. He was really net ‘wise’, so I went to get the barn guys to come help me catch the little brat. By the time we returned not 15 minutes later, we found a dead mouse on the floor about 3-feet from the front of his cage. It had NOT been there when I’d left. It had been killed, and it’s skull opened, the brain eaten. That little savage had killed the mouse.
We believe he may have gotten sick from it though, because shortly after that, he had a dramatic behavior change. Suddenly he was docile, and would even allow you to scratch his chin with the eraser of a pencil. And a few weeks after that, he died. Even with all the other exotics I got to work and live with in my childhood, including tigers, camels, giraffe, lemur, colobus monkeys, birds, and African antelope — that was a very memorable summer.
Teeth Names says
Awwww. The monkey is real cute.
Joan Trent says
what a cute little monkey 🙂
Liam Jamieson says
they are soo fuzzy 🙂