The four endangered species of lion tamarins, the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), the golden-headed lion tamarin (L. chrysomelas), the black lion tamarin (L. chrysopygus) and the black-faced lion tamarin (L. caissara) are endemic to the Atlantic Forest in eastern and southeastern Brazil.
The golden lion tamarin and the golden-headed lion tamarin are both listed as “Endangered” in the IUCN Red List, and the black lion tamarin and the black-faced lion tamarin as “Critically Endangered”.
Deforestation, hunting and commerce have caused their populations to decline drastically over the last half century bringing at least the golden lion tamarin close to extinction in the late 1960’s. National and international efforts, including captive breeding, turned this development and saved the species from getting extinct in the wild.
Current population estimates are
- ~3.200 golden lion tamarins (GLTs)
- ~6.000-15.000 golden-headed lion tamarins (GHLTs)
- ~1.500 black lion tamarins (BLTs)
- ~350 black-faced lion tamarins (BFLTs).
Populations of the GLT and BLT are highly fragmented with a majority of animals in protected areas (Poco das Antas Biological Reserve in the state of Rio de Janeiro and Morro do Diabo State Park in the state of Sao Paulo, respectively). Both species are supported by reintroduction and translocation programmes, and known populations are monitored closely. Less fragmented is the population of GHLTs, located in and around Una Biological Reserve in the state of Bahia. The distribution and status of the BFLTs are less well known due to the fact that they were only discovered in 1990. However, the majority obviously exist in the protected Superagui National Park in Parana State. Recently the species was also discovered on the mainland, and surveys have been initiated to identify the distribution of that population.