Mini monkey's death a blow to breeders
The death at a young age of one of the pair of golden lion tamarins at Wellington Zoo is a blow to the zoo's involvement in international efforts to boost numbers of the striking, rare animal.
Officials hope a post mortem will reveal how four-year-old male Orolito received the liver damage that caused his death.
The species can live to at least 15, and Orolito and his female companion Clementine, also four, arrived in Wellington a year ago.
They had been paired up shortly before their arrival as part of an international breeding programme that Wellington Zoo helped fund, zoo life sciences manager Paul Horton said.
The species' home territory is the forests along Brazil's Atlantic coast, and the breeding programme was run from Brazil.
"It's quite a hard breeding programme to be part of, specially in this part of the world," Horton said.
Orolito's death was "a real shame".
"This new pair was really exciting because it was new genetics, a new breeding pair coming into the region," he said.
"We were hoping obviously for breeding but they never found romance."
Since Clementine was last checked to see if she was pregnant there had been no sign of breeding behaviour from the pair, so while there was a chance she could be pregnant it was not likely.
"If an animal dies it is specially sad for the people who knew that individual ... but it's also sad for the programme. It's nice when you can contribute positively to an endangered species."
The conditions - such as warmth - needed for the species to breed were well known and had been provided in Wellington
"We make sure we know the species well and they have everything they require," Horton said.
Wellington's future in the breeding programme has yet to be decided.
"Obviously we want what's best for Clementine and for the species... It could be another male coming [to Wellington] or it could be her moving off and trying to pair with another male somewhere else."
The tamarin pair had been part of the popular mini monkeys exhibit at the zoo.
"They're such a striking animal. I don't think anyone could have seen them and not been amazed," Horton said.
"When people come to the zoo they learn about how amazing the animal individual is and how amazing the species is."
About 1700 golden lion tamarins were thought to live in the wild, compared to the 1900s when numbers were thought to have dropped to just a few hundred.