The Tamarins of Panama City

It was well before first light when I set off for an early morning walk along Panama City’s birding Mecca, the Pipeline Road. The sky was grey and the rain relentless. Even the birds were lying low. After a few soggy birding hours we drove to Gamboa resort. We knew that the view over the valley would be spectacular, and I might have a chance to photograph Agouti nibbling on the pristine lawns.

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We stopped to photograph a Tropical Kingbird

We stopped in a manicured housing estate to look at a Kingbird when my eye was caught by movement in the branches above. I peered into the dark foliage. The leaves rustled and a  series of high pitched squeaks and squeals burst from the leaves. What was it? There was a movement closer to the trunk and suddenly a small, angry looking face emerged from the leaves. It was Panama’s tiny punk primate, Geoffroy’s Tamarin.

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On the edge of the smart modern housing estate sat one smaller, older house with a heavily planted garden. The garden was bordered by mature trees where the tamarins were cavorting. In the center of the garden stood a bird table loaded with tropical fruit. The air shone with a rainbow of colour as a dazzling array of tanagers and honeycreepers plundered the sweet platter. We had stumbled on Matteo’s garden.

Mateo was a kind, elderly gentleman with a love of wildlife. We did not share a common language, but he understood my excitement at the sight of the tamarins. He invited me into his garden to take some photographs. 

The Tamarins squealed and whistled but stayed high up above, nervously studying the garden below. Suddenly the reason for their concern was revealed; a Coati Mundi jumped over the fence and shinned up the bird table. A Coati will catch and eat a tamarin if it can. Beneath the table a young Agouti grazed on tender shoots.

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A Coati Mundi searching for scraps
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An Agouti waits for a snack to be dropped from the bird table

Geoffroy’s tamarin is a very small monkey with a body length of about 23 centimeters (9 inches) but a long tail in excess of 38 centimeters (15 inches). To give this a little perspective, the body is smaller than that of a city dwelling Grey squirrel, but the tail is about a third longer than the same squirrel’s tail. This social monkey lives in small mixed groups of males and females. It is active during the day, when it feeds on insects, fruits and sap or gum from trees. Happily Geoffroy’s Tamarin is listed as “Least Concern” although it does have an uneasy relationship with humans. They are capable of thriving around human populations, if they are spared from hunting and the pet trade.

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An angry tamarin

With the Coati Mundi driven from the garden by an irate Mateo with a hose, the tamarins became ever more confident. They remained nervous, barking out their high-pitch warnings as they shuffled down the tree trunks, ran along branches and perfectly executed acrobatic leaps through the trees. Their bright, intelligent eyes were studying every movement in the garden.

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Geoffroy’s Tamarin edges down a tree
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A tamarin scolds a coati mundi
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Geoffroy’s Tamarin

I’m not sure if they had intended to rob the tanagers of their fruit salad breakfast but they didn’t come down to feed while I was there. Whether it was the human company or the lurking Coati Mundi, I’m not sure. Perhaps they had already eaten and were just hanging around to keep an eye on this gold mine territory.

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Geoffroy’s Tamarin

I had set off early that morning in search of birds, but the highlight of the morning was the brief encounter with these feisty fur-balls. I had been invited into a complete stranger’s garden that hummed with as much exotic wildlife life as a small zoo. I didn’t want to outstay my welcome so I expressed my undying gratitude as best I could and reluctantly left the dream garden and it’s pint sized punk primates.

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Have you encountered Tamarins? Maybe you’ve had some unusual visitors to the bird table?

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Categories: Central AmericaTags: , , , , , , , ,


I am a wildlife blogger and traveler, using images & stories to inspire wild connections.


    • Thank you! 🙏 I would be thrilled if you re-blog it. The more we share our relationships with wildlife the more chance we have of building a world where wildlife and humans live happily together 😊


  1. What an almost-dreamlike experience, David! Thanks for sharing = ) So many great pics captured of different wildlife. Love how “serious” the faces of the Tamarin look. Beautiful animal. And that Coati Mundi is really interesting; looks docile, but seems an aggressive hunter. Never heard of these! Love to learn via your posts, thank you “)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lara, yes it was an amazing experience. I’m happy to get a robin on my balcony in New Jersey! 😃 These tamarins certainly have attitude written all over their little faces but they are gorgeous. I think the coati mundi is a bit like a raccoon. Opportunists.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Always a bonus to have an accommodating local to provide access to a bounty of wildlife. The wildlife of the tropics fascinates me which is why this made an interesting read and I love the images.
    I’m thinking of organising a trip that way (either Costa Rica or Costa Rica and Panama combined) next August and was wondering if you were willing to give your opinion on whether you would consider that a good time for wildlife? That is, assuming you have been been in this region during that period?
    Opinions seem to be a bit mixed online as I know it’s considered to be a wetter month.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sarebear's Writing Spot

    Reblogged this on sarahprimate and commented:
    I wanted to re-blog this because it’s about a primate and I love them. Plus these photos are pretty spectacular. Great job David!

    Liked by 1 person

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