The mother Cotton-Top Tamarin holds on to her newborn. (Photo courtesy Cape May County Zoo)

Cape May County Zoo officials are happy to announce the birth of a Cotton-Top Tamarin, born on Aug. 3, to parents Cordelia and Tam-Tam.

The baby is the first one born at the zoo in over 17 years, according to a county press release.

Considered one of the smallest primates, from Columbia, the Cotton-Top Tamarin is easily recognized by the long, white sagittal crest extending from its forehead to its shoulders.

Dr. Alex Ernst, associate veterinarian, reported the birth as the first “quarantine” birth at the zoo during the coronavirus pandemic. Gestation is usually five months and one to two babies are common.

“Our Cotton-Top Tamarins are a Species Survival Plan (SSP) pair and every successful birth helps to stabilize the future for these critically endangered South American primates,” Ernst explained.

The goal of the SSP is to cooperatively manage animal populations within AZA-accredited zoos to ensure the sustainability of a healthy and genetically diverse population while enhancing the conservation of this species in the wild.

Freeholder E. Marie Hayes, liaison to the county parks and zoo, added, “It is always exciting to announce a new birth at the zoo. However, the birth of an SSP-protected tamarin is significant in the worldwide conservation effort.”

She continued, “The fact that our zoo participates in this program is a source of pride for all of us. The zoo is AZA-accredited. That involves a rigorous program to meet the criteria of the American Zoological Association and only about 10 percent of the zoos and aquariums meet the standards to become accredited.”

It is through the AZA that Cape May County can participate in the SSP.

“We have several species at the zoo that are protected under the SSP,” Hayes noted. “We have two remarkable veterinarians and dedicated zookeepers that make our zoo one of the best in the state. Our zoo and park staff do a great job to keep the grounds beautiful for the millions of visitors who have made the parks and zoo one of the top attractions in Cape May County.”

Since 1976, Cotton-Top Tamarins have been given the highest level of protection and all international trade was banned.

Currently, the species is at risk due to large-scale habitat destruction. The Cotton-Top Tamarin is classified as “critically endangered” and is one of the rarest primates in the world with an estimated 6,000 left in the wild, according to the press release.

They Cotton-Top Tamarins are one of three Amazonian species of tamarin and are found in a small area of northwest Colombia. Their average weight is between 14 to 15 ounces and the average height is between 9 and 13 inches.

Their average lifespan is 13.5 years in the wild and longer in captivity, with the oldest recorded tamarin living to 24 years in captivity.

“The baby is strong and healthy and will be carried closely by both mom and dad for several weeks until it is strong enough to venture out on its own,” Hayes said.

The gender has not been identified because the baby is held by the mother. They are out and about in their habitat and can be viewed by the public.

Visitors will have to look closely at mom to see the baby because she will be holding on to it very tight, Ernst noted.

The zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Masks or face coverings for visitors over two years old and social distancing are required.

The zoo is free but donations are accepted.

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