Thanks to the diligent teamwork of representatives from Idaho Falls Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Allegiant Air, Idaho Falls Airport (IDA), and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport a plan was put in motion to move Tunda, a critically endangered, female, one-pound cotton-top tamarin, from sunny Phoenix to the great white north of Idaho Falls.
At the beginning of January, Chad, the male cotton-top tamarin at the Idaho Falls Zoo, lost his 20-year-old mate, Mani, due to her advanced age. Because tamarins are social, animal care staff at the Idaho Falls Zoo immediately notified the cotton-top tamarin Species Survival Plan (SSP) through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to ensure Chad’s mental health and wellbeing. A SSP is comprised of a scientific committee responsible for ensuring the genes of the captive populations, such as cotton-top tamarins, maintain diversity and good health for generations to come.
As part of the program, animals often move from their natal zoo to other accredited institutions in a scientific matchmaking effort. By regulating breeding, scientists can help ensure tamarins, and many other species under human care, are being properly managed to prevent the extinction of the species.
After the cotton-top tamarin SSP put out word of Chad needing a new mate, representatives from the Phoenix Zoo promptly responded. At 2 years old, Tunda is the perfect age to be matched with a male cotton-top tamarin. Young female cotton-top tamarins are known for helping raise their younger siblings, which appears to prepare them for motherhood.
“Tunda is a very mellow monkey who excelled at helping raise her two younger siblings,” says Mary Yoder, Phoenix Zoo’s Collection Manager of Primates. “We are excited to know she will be an ambassador for her species and carry on her lineage through the SSP pairing with Chad in Idaho Falls.”
Under the SSP, the pair will be carefully monitored for breeding activity and success. Their future propagation success is extraordinarily important as cotton-top tamarins are one of the rarest primates in the world. Found only in a small, isolated area of forest in northwest Colombia, their numbers have decreased more than 80% in the last 20 years because of deforestation. It’s estimated less than 1,000 still live in the wild.
But, a large challenge remained. How do we quickly and efficiently move a one-pound monkey over 870 miles in the middle of winter? Idaho Falls Airport (IDA) staff members heard about the plight of little Tunda and immediately saw the potential to play a part in helping a critically endangered species.
“I was very happy to see Airport staff jump on board and work with our partners at Allegiant Air and with the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to assist the zoos,” said Airport Director Rick Cloutier.
Representatives with Allegiant Air also jumped right on board. “As soon as we heard about this special mission, our team came together to see how we could help,” said Hilarie Grey, managing director of corporate communications for Allegiant. “Although our pet in cabin policy typically means transporting only a small dog or cat in a carrier, we were happy to provide a special assist in the name of conservation and ensure Tunda had a smooth, nonstop trip to her new home in Idaho Falls. And our crew especially enjoyed hosting this tiny and exceptionally well-behaved VIP.”
Late last week, Tunda and Mary arrived at the Mesa Gateway Airport to being the process of moving through Airport Security and meeting up with Tunda’s travel partner Ashley Cram, Primate and Large Carnivore Keeper at the Idaho Falls Zoo.
“Checking-in a monkey at the ticket counter was a “first” for me!” Yoder said. Tunda was given special treatment from the very moment she arrived at the Allegiant terminal at the Mesa-Gateway Airport. “Staff rolled out the red carpet for Tunda. She even had her own boarding pass!”
As they boarded the plane, Tunda and Ashley were greeted enthusiastically and warmly by the Allegiant flight crew who announced the plane would be carrying a rather “special guest” to Idaho Falls.
“The Allegiant crew was so kind and accommodating,” states Cram. “And Tunda was the perfect little passenger. She was very calm and didn’t make a sound the whole flight.”
On behalf of the Phoenix Zoo and the Idaho Falls Zoo, our deepest gratitude goes to Allegiant Air, and the staff at both Idaho Falls Airport and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, for all working together to solidify an endangered species love match made across the skies.