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Golden lion tamarin at Brookfield Zoo, fitted with radio collar.

On your next visit to Brookfield Zoo, you should keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of small, orange primates in the trees. Now through mid-September, a pair of golden lion tamarins (called GLTs) named Diabo and Delilah has been released in the wooded area just east of Indian Lake at Brookfield Zoo.

The release provides the monkeys with the opportunity to learn how to catch insects and climb in the trees in an outdoor environment. Diabo and Delilah’s home base is a nestbox (a large cooler) positioned in the trees, which are connected with ropes to mimic the vines of the tamarins’ native Brazilian forest habitat. In addition to observing the golden lion tamarins in a free-ranging space, guests will learn about primate conservation efforts, as tamarins were once critically endangered.

“Diabo and Delilah are able to forage for food and explore the open woods on their own,” said Craig Demitros, Chicago Zoological Society’s (CZS) associate curator of primates. ”They use their long tail for balance when climbing through the trees and use their long fingers for grabbing branches, holding fruit, and reaching into crevices to catch insects. Additionally, zookeepers supplement the primates’ diet by using a feeder on a pulley-and-rope system to raise food up to them twice a day.”

In preparation for their release into the woods, Diabo and Delilah went through basic training as they learned how to use a hanging feeder, practiced walking on a rope, and became comfortable sleeping in a nestbox. The tamarins are fitted with radio transmitters so Animal Care staff can track them if they are ever out of sight.

Throughout the day, zoo staff and volunteers are on hand to answer questions. In addition, guests can learn about the golden lion tamarins at the daily 12:30 p.m. Zoo Chat. The exhibit is free with regular zoo admission of $13.50 for adults and $9.50 for children 11 and under and seniors 65 and older. Children 2 and under are free. Parking is $9.

This release continues CZS’ rich history of primate care at Brookfield Zoo and conservation of primates in the wild. Brookfield Zoo is part of the Golden Lion Tamarin Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program among zoos that support conservation and education efforts on behalf of endangered species. Along with the Brazilian government, this cooperative program is working with private farmers in the state of Rio de Janeiro to protect pristine corridor areas of land that can be populated with the tamarins.

“Through the SSP, tamarins born in zoos have been released back into the rain forests of Brazil to try to boost declining populations,” said Demitros. “While the current release at Brookfield Zoo will not result in any of the tamarins going to Brazil, the program is an important training connection to reintroducing tamarins into the wild and will serve as an opportunity for us to record data on their behavior.”

The Golden Lion Tamarin SSP began in 1984 with zoos “training” animals in the skills needed to survive in the wild by releasing them in forested areas on zoo property. In 1993, Brookfield Zoo released the first golden lion tamarins to live temporarily in the woods adjacent to Indian Lake. In 2000, six tamarins were sent to Brazil from Brookfield Zoo to repopulate areas where the species had disappeared.

Since the program began, tamarins have been introduced to more than 25 privately owned ranches in Brazil. Over 150 tamarins have been reintroduced, and as a result of these animals successfully reproducing, the reintroduction project has added 550 animals to the wild population, with 95 percent of these being wild born. In the wild, the golden lion tamarin population has grown in recent years from a mere 200 to approximately 1,500 individual animals.