Pygmy marmosets. Those cute little monkeys found in South American rainforests. The tiniest on the planet. Wouldn’t it be just adorable if they had babies? Why yes, it would…but it’s a tricky business.
Pygmy marmosets: yep, they’re adorable.
As you may have read in recent blogs, pygmy marmosets have some unique characteristics, including what they eat and the way they parent. You may have also learned that pygmy marmosets, as well as 300 other species of animals, have a special plan for breeding in zoos to make sure they don’t breed with others in their family tree and that there is enough space for them.
Now let’s take that a step further: what is the Houston Zoo doing to breed them responsibly so we make sure that we’ve got enough marmosets in zoos, especially if the wild population takes a turn for the worse? Our pygmy marmosets happen to be some of the most successful at having babies of any zoo, so let’s take a look at what we think we’re doing right.
It all goes back to April 2006. Pygmy marmoset pair Per and Mia were both 4 years old and new to the Zoo, so before putting them out to roam with other animals in our Natural Encounters rainforest exhibit, we figured they needed some quiet time to get to know each other. And get to know each other they did…in a few short months, sure enough, twins arrived. We suspected that it was because they were kept in a quiet, smaller area, but at this point we weren’t quite sure.
Then came Bobby and Tilly. This pair was introduced when they were both 4 years old, which seems to be prime time for marmosets to get a mate. They turned out to be the most successful family the Zoo has ever had! They had a total of 8 offspring that made it to maturity.
Bobby, Tilly, and one of their offspring
The secret? We think it’s the same thing, which we called the “closet method” – let them get to know each other in a small, quiet space with no interruptions, and then they have babies. Once they have a couple births, we can introduce them to other animals and let them all frolic together in our rainforest exhibit. This makes sense, because pygmy marmoset families don’t move around much in the wild – they have a small range where they live and they don’t venture out much beyond it.
To test the “closet method” theory, we’re working with the SSP coordinator to reach out to other accredited zoos and seeing how successful they have been in breeding marmosets, and also finding out basic information about how their marmosets live, what they do for enrichment and training, and even what they eat. If we understand how people are housing and managing them, and also what success in breeding they’ve had, we hope to establish a pattern and then help zoos around the country become successful with their marmosets.
So where are our marmosets? Right now, they’re all behind the scenes so they can relax and get to know each other. You never know when they’ll be ready to be in the rainforest, though, so keep an eye out when you visit.
Thanks to Abby Varela, Senior Keeper at the Houston Zoo, for the fantastic information and photos!