The Great Monkey Rescue

What You Need


  • Classroom copies of The Great Monkey Rescue by Sandra Markle
The Great Monkey Rescue


To teach students about the scientific process by taking them through the study of the golden lion tamarins in their natural and artificial environments.


This lesson is based on the book The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins, by Sandra Markle. The book is one of the winners of the 2017 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. SB&F, Science Books & Films, is a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Great Monkey Rescue recounts the story of how researchers and the local community came together to save the golden lion tamarin community. Golden lion tamarin monkeys are squirrel-sized and eat a diet consisting of 80% fruit. They are only found in Brazil’s Atlantic forest. Deforestation along the coast of Brazil has reduced the numbers of monkeys to critically low levels. Scientists sought to combat this by stopping the capture of wild tamarins and focusing on ways to increase the current captive population. Researchers discovered that mimicking the environment and social norms in the wild could impact how captive monkeys lived. Once they socialized the monkeys into families, they notice an improvement in survival in a captive environment.

Researchers next wanted to augment the numbers of wild tamarin monkeys by introducing captive tamarins to their native environment. Poço das Antas Biological Reserve, secured for the tamarins by the Brazilian government, was chosen as a point of entry for the captive tamarins. They prepared the monkeys by mimicking food scavenging and resettling monkeys once they reached a breeding age. However, these tamarins had low survival rates once introduced into the wild. Only when the captive monkeys were released with wild monkeys did they notice a higher rate of survival.

This success was short lived: as the tamarin population was resettled, the number of monkey occupants in the reserve grew, creating more competition for limited resources. More forest areas for the tamarin population would be needed. With help from the Brazilian locals and government, the researchers worked to secure and maintain forested areas as a haven for the golden lion tamarin. Volunteers in the community helped researchers plant trees to provide shelter and protection to the tamarin monkeys. Only through the coordination between these different communities were the monkeys saved from extinction.

In this lesson, students explore the scientific method by taking on the role of researcher. Students will be asked to find out about endangered species and think about why they are endangered and what can be done to help the species. Collaborative science is stressed in this activity as students work in groups to answer questions. The collaborative science done in the classroom mimics what occurs in professional research. Students should have a general understanding of the scientific method to successfully complete the in-class assignment.

By the end of the lesson, students should be able to determine conclusions as to how the golden lion tamarin population was saved from extinction. They should be able to identify the findings that lead researchers to the population-saving solutions.

As you teach this lesson you should be aware of some common misconceptions that middle school students may have, including: 

  • Science can replicate “wild” environmental factors in a controlled environment
  • Scientific experiments are done in laboratories

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:

    Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
    Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

Planning Ahead

Since this lesson uses The Great Monkey Rescue book, you should try to have classroom copies of the book on hand.

Before conducting this lesson, you should read The Great Monkey Rescue yourself. You may want to research other animals that are endangered because of habitat destruction, and you may also want to read about disappearing forests.


Students should use The Great Monkey Rescue student esheet to watch Meet the Golden Lion Tamarin Family at the Palm  Beach Zoo. This video provides some good information on the monkeys. Once they’ve watched the video, have a discussion and ask these questions (students can answer these questions on their Great Monkey Rescue student sheet):

  • Where are golden lion tamarins found?
    • (They are found in the Brazilian rainforest.)
  • They are considered an endangered species. Do you know what that means?
    • (An endangered species is a species that is seriously at risk of extinction. Answers from students may vary.)
  • Who in the golden lion tamarin family takes part in raising the babies?
    • (Everyone in the family helps to raise the babies.)
  • How many golden lion tamarins were left in their natural habitat by the 1970s?
    • (Only about 200 of them were left.)
  • What did scientists do to try to save the species? Did this effort succeed?
    • (Scientists decided to carry out a reintroduction of the species into the wild. The effort has succeeded and in 2012 there were over 1,500 golden lion tamarins in the wild.)
  • What is the goal for the number of golden lion tamarins in the wild by 2025? How can we make that happen?
    • (The goal is to have 2,000 of them in the wild by 2025. In order to get there, the habitat of the golden lion tamarins needs to expand and scientists and zoos need to increase education efforts to help make that happen.)


Once you’ve discussed the video, ask students to read the book either as an in-class (individual) activity or a take-home assignment. After the students have read the book, discuss the scientific method to ensure that students understand the steps and uses.

Highlight the steps in the scientific method:

  1. Question/Purpose
  2. Research
  3. Hypothesis
  4. Experiment/Observation
  5. Analysis/Conclusion

In the next activity, students will work in groups (simulating research groups) to investigate other species that are threatened by losing their natural habitat. Explain what endangered means. In the book, Markle mentions the Bornean orangutan, the pygmy elephant, and the Malayan sun bear. Students should use these species as research topics. They can use the library and the Internet to find out more about these animals.

Provide students with their Researching an Endangered Species student sheet, which they can use to conduct their research to get this information about the species:

  • Scientific Name
  • Native Location
  • Native Environment (Habitat)
  • Why the species is endangered
  • An interesting fact about the animal
  • List the sources used

Then students should answer these questions about the species:

  • What kind of habitat does the animal need to thrive?
  • Why is it endangered?
  • What are scientists doing to help?
  • How can other people help?

Students should use the information they have found to create a presentation about the species they’ve researched. The presentation can be done as a PowerPoint or as a poster. If students have access to software or mobile apps that would help them make a video, they can do their presentation in that way as well. The student sheet provides instructions and a rubric to help students prepare for their presentation. You can use the rubric to help assess their presentations.

Requirements for Presentation


  • Include at least 5 images on the poster along with 5 pieces of information to go along with the images. The information can be done as captions for the images.
  • They should include a title and a list of their sources of information.
  • The images and information should correspond to the information they collected during their research: Scientific Name, Native Location, Native Environment (Habitat), Why the species is endangered, An interesting fact about the animal.


  • Include at least 7 slides on the poster – one for each piece of information they collected plus a title slide and a final slide that lists their sources. They should include the information to go along with the images.
  • The images and information should correspond to the information they collected during their research: Scientific Name, Native Location, Native Environment (Habitat), Why the species is endangered, An interesting fact about the animal, List of the sources used.


To assess student understanding of the concepts presented in this lesson, bring the scientific process to life by having students determine and explain what steps of the scientific process were addressed in the class activity.

  1. Question/Purpose
  2. Research
  3. Hypothesis

Each of the groups should write their answers on the board. Then, the class should compare and contrast the animals. Explain the importance of discussion and how scientists get ideas for experiments based on previous knowledge.

Test your students’ understanding of the scientific method by asking them to apply the scientific method to The Great Monkey Rescue. Using The Great Monkey Rescue Hypothesis student sheet, students should develop a hypothesis about the monkeys that they’d like to test. They should then explain how they would go about doing that. Students should cite specific textual evidence from the book in their answers. Pose the question, “Why are the gold lion tamarins disappearing, and what can be done to stop this?”


Students can learn about another disappearing group in The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs lesson. Markle has written a Spotlight on Science Writers post about her experience writing this book.

Students should consider the necessity of volunteers in the study of scientific questions. Ask them to write down their thoughts on citizen science (refers to research collaborations between scientists and volunteers). You might also want to compare and contrast the social habits and biological traits of the golden lion tamarin to humans.

Picture books often help older students relate to a topic quickly and at a visceral level. Science NetLinks' Spotlight on Science Writers post from Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, the authors of Parrots over Puerto Rico, shares another story about a species at risk and how different communities came together to protect it.

Funder Info
Science NetLinks is proud to have Subaru as a funder of this project.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards