Endangered primate born at Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth

Duluth's zoo now has a trio of cotton-top tamarins. Parents Mira and Deno birthed a new member of the critically endangered species.

Two adult cotton-top tamarins crouch on leafy branches, with a baby clinging to the top of the right monkey's back.
Duluth is now home to three cotton-top tamarins: two parents and a baby.
Contributed / Lake Superior Zoo
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DULUTH — The Lake Superior Zoo announced Tuesday that their resident cotton-top tamarins, Mira and Deno, have welcomed a new baby. It's a welcome development for the critically endangered species, of which there are only 35 breeding pairs in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The baby, which remains unnamed since its sex is not yet known, is healthy and receiving "great care" from its parents. The family can be seen in the zoo's Primate Conservation Center, which is also home to a recently born Angolan colobus monkey and twin pygmy slow loris babies who arrived in late winter.

A tamarin clings to a leafy branch, with a baby peering over its left shoulder.
Duluth's new baby cotton-top tamarin clings to a parent's back.
Contributed / Lake Superior Zoo

The squirrel-sized tamarins are among the smallest primates on earth. They're also now among the world's rarest primates, having lost 95% of its native lowland forest habitat in Colombia. They communicate using a highly sophisticated language comprising dozens of distinct sounds. Being very cute and social, the species has suffered from extensive illegal capture for the pet trade.

Like the pygmy slow loris and the Angolan colobus monkey, the cotton-top tamarin is part of an AZA Species Survival Plan in which animals are systematically circulated among zoos to ensure maximum breeding diversity.

“Being a part of the Species Survival Plan program is a crucial piece of accomplishing our mission here at the Lake Superior Zoo,” said zoo CEO Haley Hedstrom in a statement. “A birth like this is quite an extraordinary event and definitely something to celebrate. With cotton-top tamarins being critically endangered, we are proud to be a part of the efforts to hopefully someday be able to grow the population in the wild.”


Adult cotton-top tamarins sport distinctive white crests on their heads, and only grow to a weight of about one pound each. "Adorable!" wrote Chisholm resident Patti Wood, commenting on a Facebook post announcing the birth. "The little one's cotton top looks like a crew cut!"

There are fewer than 50 pygmy slow lorises in North America. Now, four of them live in Duluth.

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at or 218-279-5536.
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