Beating the Odds Bright Ideas for the Survival of Golden Lion Tamarins

Published: 09 March 2023
Last edited: 09 March 2023
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In 1960, surveys estimated that only 200 golden lion tamarins remained in the wild. These primates are native to the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil, where their habitat is decimated by logging, agriculture, and urbanization. Stakeholder groups needed to coordinate their work in order for them to be efficient and effective.


The Brazilian government invited the Conservation Planning Specialist Group (CPSG) to guide the groups in determining exactly what it would take to not only save golden lion tamarins from extinction but allow them to thrive again in their rainforest home. At the workshop in 1990, CPSG created population simulation models to generate an overall picture of what conditions the species needed to survive in the wild. This helped the group articulate a specific vision that all their individual efforts would strive to achieve. Together they determined that to survive, the wild population needed to grow to at least 2,000 and have access to 25,000 hectares of connected and protected forest by 2025.


South America
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Tropical deciduous forest
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Cities and infrastructure
Infrastructure maintenance
Species management
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Infrastructure development




Thanks to reintroductions, efforts to preserve habitat, and moving tamarins out of doomed rainforest fragments, the wild population gradually increased. In 2003, their status was officially changed from Critically Endangered to Endangered, demonstrating that the species’ risk of extinction was lowered as a direct result of conservation activities.


Now, just over 25 years after the first workshop, the project’s most important goal has been partially realized: a little more than 2,500 golden lion tamarins swing through the treetops in Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest. Efforts to protect the species’ habitat are just as intense as ever.


“This conservation success demonstrates how a goal-oriented approach can have a huge effect and really make a difference,” said Bengt Holst, Director of Conservation at the Copenhagen Zoo. “It shows the great value of the CPSG workshop process as a force for conservation.”


The golden lion tamarin conservation effort is held up around the world as a clear example of a conservation success story. Setting aside a few days—even in the midst of urgent conservation activities—to define a goal and develop a responsive plan really can make the difference in helping an endangered species beat the odds.

Contributed by

adabmi_41888's picture

Mina Adabag IUCN SSC Conservation Planning Specialist Group