- Associated Press - Sunday, February 7, 2016

PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) - A Chinese New Year celebration Saturday at the Bergen County Zoo, heralding the year of the monkey, put the spotlight an endangered species distinct for its red fur and small head surrounded by a lion-like mane.

Dozens of visitors visited a playful father-son pair of golden lion tamarins and learned about their endangered status - they number below 2,000 worldwide - and their importance as seed dispensers.

The Lunar New Year is celebrated by different East Asian cultures. This year it falls on Monday, based on the lunar calendar. The Chinese commemorations of the holiday offered an opportunity for the zoo to spread the word about the simian species and allow residents to partake in a large cultural event.

“The idea is to get people to understand different cultures,” said Taryn McCrystall, the education coordinator at the zoo who taught visitors about the monkey. “We’re a very diverse area.”

In the education center, a group of young children and parents gathered around Brittany Rakoski, a naturalist at the zoo, as she read aloud a children’s book called “My First Chinese New Year.” It explained that “red means good luck and happiness in China” and the dragon “is a sign of good luck.”

Photos and drawings of monkeys hung on a board behind her. After the story, children were given pictures of monkeys to color in.

Erinn Revhun, an 11-year-old from Oradell, stayed behind after everyone left, carefully coloring her orange monkey. It’s her favorite animal. At home, she has stuffed animal monkeys, sock monkeys and monkey stickers in her notebooks.

“I love monkeys,” she said. “I think they’re just real cute, the things they do. And they’re funny, too.”

She liked seeing the cotton-top tamarins, tiny primates with distinct white crests, tussle. “Fake fighting,” she said. “They remind me of me and Caroline,” she said of her best friend.

Her mother, Jaki Revhun, knew Erinn would enjoy herself. Erinn is artistic and doodles on every scrap of paper on the kitchen table, her mother said.

“It’s right up her alley: monkeys and art.”

The zoo also has Goeldi’s monkeys, tiny, black creatures from the Amazon Basin.

McCrystall asked the visitors to the golden lion tamarins why thought they should care about the primates.

“Because they’re endangered,” replied Joann Hodgkiss of Pompton Lakes, 9. In response to a question about what people can do locally to help preserve them, she suggested, “Don’t litter.”

The golden lion tamarin population has risen from a nadir of 500 to about 1,500 today, McCrystall said. The monkeys eat a variety of fruits and defecate the seeds, helping spread them, she said.

The zoo holds events at least one weekend a month, many of them educational. Last month’s event was about saving eagles. Next month’s will be about saving frogs.

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Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com

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