Callitrichid Conservation

Marmosets and tamarins are very popular in the United States, both to collectors and breeders, and to pet owners. Interest in these small, charming non-human primates is rapidly growing, however, very little information is available to primate owners concerning husbandry, diet, natural history and medical concerns. One of the main goals of Small World Zoological Gardens, our private facility dedicated to the captive conservation of callitrichids, is to disseminate the information that we have learned from caring for our group of 160 callitrichids. We are compiling information about all aspects of owning these small monkeys, with the intent of publishing a book on their care. In the meantime, we have lectured and written papers on different aspects of callitrichid care, aimed at both professional and lay people, sharing the information that we have learned.

Our marmosets and tamarins are housed in outdoor suspended cages, using 2.5 cm X 2.5 cm X 12 gauge galvanized wire. Individual pairs are kept in cages measuring 1.5 m X 1.5 m X 2 m, with a sleeping box fashioned from an insulated 60 quart picnic cooler. The cooler has an opening cut in it and it is hung outside the cage. Even though we live in Florida, which is a semi-tropical location, we supply heat to our monkeys if the outdoor temperature drops below 65 degrees F. During our winter months, we may have 20-30 days that fall below this temperature during some part of the day or night, and on the rare occasion, our temperature may fall below 32 degrees F (0 C) during the night. Callitrichids would not naturally ever be exposed to these low temperatures, and even though they can acclimate and adjust to abnormally low temperatures, we feel that this causes undue stress on these somewhat delicate monkeys. The stress from the cold can precipitate a medical crisis if an adult monkey is not in excellent condition. Also, we have discovered that infants and juveniles cannot easily tolerate the cold and can become rapidly hypothermic and may even die from exposure.

We use flexible acetate heating squares that hold a temperature of 95 degrees F. These are wired into the cooler through the drain hole, and are placed on a piece of indoor-outdoor carpeting in the bottom of the cooler. Then several plush bath towels are placed over the heat square for the monkeys to snuggle into. Several coolers are connected to one thermostat control, and when outside temperature drops below a pre-set temperature, (65 degrees F), the heaters automatically turn on. Since the marmosets and tamarins arise shortly after sunrise and exit their boxes, they also require supplemental heat to take the chill off them in the morning until the sun warms them up. To effectively allow them to bask, each cage is also outfitted with a ceramic-type heater that fits into a standard reflector light bulb holder, which is then clipped to the side of the cage. We have noticed that the juveniles will consistently hang onto the wire near the heater on cool mornings. Sick adults and monkeys carrying infants will also stay near the heat source.

In the United States, breeding facilities are controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA inspects all registered facilities at least twice a year, and more frequently if there are problems or if the facility does not meet standards. The USDA publishes a book of guidelines and minimum standards for primate care, and these must be adhered to in order to be licensed. Caging, diet, veterinary care, behavioral enrichment and detailed records are all areas reviewed by the inspector. Non-compliance may result in a monetary fine or suspension of the license. The USDA license is necessary for buying, selling or exhibiting primates.

It has been theorized that marmosets and tamarins cannot be bred in close proximity to conspecifics due to the release of pheromones that will suppress ovulation in females housed in the same area as breeding pairs. When we were originally setting up our pairs and families, we tried to place marmosets next to tamarins, alternating species. However, it has been our experience that they will breed, even if housed less than one meter away from another breeding pair of the same species. Families are, however, quite protective of their groups, and often a breeding adult male will spend a considerable amount of time and energy displaying to a dominant male in a nearby cage. For this reason, we prefer to put marmosets next to tamarins, and vice versa.

Our diet consists of a canned marmoset diet manufactured by Zupreem, three types of monkey biscuits, at least two fresh fruits per day, at least two fresh vegetables per day, marshmallows, and other foods, which are rotated to prevent boredom. Fruits and vegetables include apples, oranges, watermelon, cantaloupe, pears, peaches, pineapple, grapes, cranberries, strawberries, bananas, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, squash, mushrooms, green beans, other beans, corn on the cob, and other seasonal produce. Our primates are also fed treats including animal crackers, cookies, soft candies, chocolate, licorice, cake, pudding, and marshmallows. We do not feed crickets, waxworms or mealworms, but because they live outdoors, they do occasionally catch bugs, moths or lizards.

Our monkeys are kept in family groups, consisting of the alpha male and female, and any offspring that they produce. If at all possible, we allow the parents to care for their infants. We only pull babies for hand-rearing if the parents are aggressive to their babies, or if babies have medical problems requiring special care. We have learned that most callitrichids cannot care for triplets, and one will usually not survive, and we will therefore take the weakest baby for hand-rearing.

We are doing something with our hand-reared offspring that we feel is ground-breaking. Since hand-reared juvenile monkeys will not have acquired parenting skills from living in a family group, we have instituted a program to effectively teach these skills to our young monkeys. As new babies are born, we allow our juveniles to assist in caring for the infants. Having built-in aunts and uncles works out very well for all of the monkeys. The infants benefit from the temperature regulation from being carried by another monkey, and the infant also benefits by the stimulation of being carried.

Copyright 2006 Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P.
All Rights Reserved

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