Friday 2 September 2011, 13:20
I suppose it's not the average day at the office when you get to bring home two tiny little endangered monkeys in your bag.
Feeding time: Dominic Wormell cares for the tamarins
I must admit, I usually get a groan and a look of 'oh no, not another one' from my wife when I turn up with a travelling crate, a steriliser and some powdered baby milk, as it usually means she will be getting up in the middle of the night to do some of the feeding duties.
Intelligent and fascinating, but often challenging to breed, many tamarins and marmosets are threatened with extinction.
Over the years we've faced many problems with these monkeys and as a result have learned a lot about how to keep them healthier and happier in captivity.
This led the BBC to contact us about doing some filming with our tamarins.
I always wanted to work in conservation.
I came to Jersey on the ferry with my bike thinking I would stay for a year or so, but after starting work with the large marmoset and tamarin collection for which Jersey was famed, I became hooked.
They are wonderful little animals and there is always something going on in their full social lives.
Pied tamarins, very threatened in the wild, first came to Durrell in 1990 and it was immediately obvious that they were very different to other species.
When they jumped out of the crates they had travelled in from Brazil, they began to vocalise in a strange and aggressive way that I hadn't heard before.
They were angry little creatures, confrontational and ready to challenge any perceived threat.
This obviously posed some problems if we were to breed them in captivity and establish a safety net population.
More of the cute baby animals featured in the series.
To say that those first pied tamarins were poor parents would be an understatement:
In the early years I was often greeted with the gruesome sight of tiny headless corpses on the enclosure floor.
Not only that, but they seemed to be very susceptible to illness.
Over the years we changed the way they looked after them, finely adjusting everything from diet to housing, reducing stress and enriching their environment, to put the troublesome tamarins at ease.
Gradually things improved, and we have now bred many tamarins and sent them elsewhere so that the population is safer.
William was the first pied tamarin that I hand-reared.
His mother was a notorious baby killer and one day I walked into the enclosure to see a small, dark, wet, lump on the floor, covered in wood shavings and squeaking incessantly.
Meanwhile his mother had killed his twin and was now looking down at him - she would probably have finished him off if I hadn't been there.
William had a series of health problems, including a large inguinal hernia which the vet said was untreatable. But we made some tiny plastic shorts out of a fairy liquid bottle which held the hernia in place, and it soon healed itself.
William is now an infamous character, having a few favourite people but taking every opportunity to nip anyone else - and tamarin bites hurt a lot!
Despite this he is now a proud father several times over, and though an old man at the age of 17, is due to become a parent again. (The oldest pied tamarin on record is 21. He is called Mr Tumnus and is still living here at Jersey!)
William took a long time to integrate into a foster family because of his health problems, but we've learned over the years that it's really important to get hand-reared babies back into a group when they are still very young, as that way they grow up to be much more socially adept.
Unlike many primate species, tamarins have a very sophisticated system of group care and are usually perfectly happy to foster unrelated babies.
The ideal group will have adults that have had lots of experience with infants, either their own siblings or as parents themselves, and be likely to breed again so that the foster kids can learn about how to look after babies correctly.
One of my first visits to Brazil was to help reintroduce the first captive-born black lion tamarin, one of our Jersey successes, to the Atlantic forest in southern Brazil.
However, reintroducing any of the pied tamarins we are breeding now is unlikely to be feasible, as the last remaining bits of forest they live in already have tamarins living in them.
So we are working on their conservation in the wild with Marcelo Gordo and other conservationists in Brazil to try and put a brake on the destruction of the forest that pied tamarins and many other species live in.
With Manaus continuing to engulf the forest, it's very sad to see how much more has gone every time I visit.
It's also really heartening to see how Marcelo is trying to build up tree corridors through the city, and the tamarins in Jersey and in Europe are helping to raise funds for this.
Surely there must be a space for these tiny little primates in our world - we can't let them be steamrollered out of existence.
Dominic Wormell is the Head of Mammals at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
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