The Santa Barbara Zoo welcomed two pairs of babies in the past three months to its golden lion tamarin and meerkat exhibits.
The endangered tamarin species — named for their golden coats and “lion-like” facial expressions — is native to southeastern Brazil and threatened by deforestation. The exhibit, opened in 1983, houses three adults — Kovu, Pinky and Wilson — and two unnamed infants.
According to Director of Animal Programs Sheri Horiszny, the baby tamarins are the newest members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums cooperative breeding program.
“We are thrilled at the Santa Barbara Zoo to welcome twin golden lion tamarin babies,” Horiszny said. “They were born in February, and they add to our group and they will add to the overall population of tamarins in accredited zoos.”
Adult tamarins can grow up to 10 inches tall with 15-inch tails and generally weigh between one and 1.5 pounds. The zoo feeds the animals a “nutritionally complete” primate diet supplemented with fruits and insects.
According to Mammal Keeper Lacey Byrnes, the newborns cling to adult members’ backs for safety as part of their “cooperative rearing” strategy.
“If they hear a noise or if someone else shows any sign of alarm, they will cling and jump onto the nearest adult,” Byrnes said.
Zookeepers padded the exhibit’s interior with grass-hay to facilitate “softer” crash landings in case the parents accidentally drop the baby tamarins during handoffs.
Pathologist reports confirmed the twins’ mother, Bella, died from a lung infection nearly five weeks after giving birth.
Byrnes said the infants are in a critical developmental stage.
“They normally would be nursing until 12 weeks, so they are kind of missing out on that last six weeks of getting milk [from their mother],” Byrnes said.
Specialists brought the dead mother’s body back into the cage to allow family members to mourn and inspect the corpse, according to Byrnes.
Despite losing their mother, Byrnes said zookeeper’s observed the newborns are “doing well.”
“[The adults] are very protective of them, which is great,” Byrnes said. “We do not want to have to intervene more than necessary.”
The zoo’s meerkat mob consists of one breeding pair, a subordinate female and two newborns. It is the first litter for the exhibit’s resident female.
According to Senior Mammal Keeper Wendy Anderson, meerkats have an 11-week gestation period and usually remain in a “network of holes” dug underneath the exhibit.
Anderson said the babies were born unexpectedly to parents Sha and Leo on March 24. The infant mammals hide in their dens for a minimum of three weeks before making their first appearance to the public.
“Unfortunately, these guys were born outside [and] they came to us about a month before we were really expecting them,” Anderson said. “Obviously, our calculations were off. I would prefer them to be inside [in the off-exhibit area]. But during the rainy weather, Mom and Dad did take them inside!”
The Santa Barbara Zoo is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (805) 962-5339 or visit www.sbzoo.org for more information.