Tamarins find a new home

MONKEYING AROUND: One of Franklin Zoo’s cotton-top tamarins checks out her new home at Butterfly Creek.
MONKEYING AROUND: One of Franklin Zoo’s cotton-top tamarins checks out her new home at Butterfly Creek.

They each weigh less than a block of butter but they've got big personalities - and even bigger hair.

Some of the smallest monkeys in the world have found a new home at Butterfly Creek at Auckland Airport.

Four cotton-top tamarins - Ay, Chaska, Merida and Miracle - were transferred to the Mangere wildlife centre late last week.

They are former residents of Tuakau's Franklin Zoo, which closed its doors last year after owner Helen Schofield was crushed to death by former circus elephant Mila.

All but one of the 430 former inhabitants of the zoo have now found homes across New Zealand and Australia although many remain in Tuakau waiting for their new enclosures to be built. Mila is still expected to be rehomed in the United States although no location has been confirmed.

Rehoming the animals hasn't been easy, Dr Schofield's sister and zoo trustee Jenny Chung says.

"It was really hard because Franklin Zoo was a sanctuary that was the last port of call for these animals because no-one else wanted them.

"We're very grateful to all the facilities that have put themselves out there so that these animals can continue to live good lives."

Like Mila, many of the animals came from circuses and display strange, "humanised" behaviour, Ms Chung says.

"Some are elderly, some are blind, one-eyed, three-legged - they've got all sorts of physical and behavioural problems."

The cotton-top tamarins came to the sanctuary because they are not part of a breeding programme, she says.

The decision to exclude the four from the gene pool was made by the Zoo and Aquarium Association, which co-ordinates zoo breeding programmes across Australasia.

The tiny monkeys are critically endangered and it's estimated there are only 6000 of them in the wild, where they are found only in the Central American country of Colombia.

They weigh, on average, just 430 grams and live to about 22 years old in captivity.

Butterfly Creek animal manager Amy Keller says the pint-sized primates have very distinct personalities.

"Chaska is a very friendly little critter - she's the dominant one.

"Miracle is a lot cheekier and mischievous," she says.

"Merida loves her food and Ay is just a calm, relaxed dude."

The four are living in two separate enclosures in Butterfly Creek's tropical butterfly house, where they're fed a diet of fruit and insects.

"Because they're such small animals they do need a lot of energy so they need food constantly," Ms Keller says.

"They also need enrichment to stimulate their minds.

"Zoo animals can start displaying stereotypical behaviours - when you see the bears rocking or the elephants swaying back and forth, it's because they don't have enough mental stimulation.

"So you do things like put bugs in jars and they can put their arms in the holes and grab it.

"You just have to give them things to work out."

The Franklin Zoo Charitable Trust is to start fundraising soon to help rehome Mila in the United States. See franklinzoo.co.nz or call 09 236 8686 for information on how to donate.

Papakura Courier