A WORM on my shoulder was enough to have the cotton-top tamarins falling for me within seconds.

Their dinner was running half an hour late, so when I arrived at the Queensland Zoo enclosure I already had seven sets of little eyes staring down at me.

"I think they're a little hungry," primate zookeeper Kimberley Cronau said.

Kimberley passed me the monkeys' second meal of the day - mealworms - and told me to follow her into the leafy enclosure.

With the squirming worms in hand I was swarmed by the Mohawk-headed monkeys.

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While some reached out to the food in my hands, others eased comfortably on to my shoulder or even into the bowl to get a sturdy portion.

Kimberley has been working with the pint-sized monkeys for about six months and the animals are already her pride and joy.

Cotton-top tamarins are a critically endangered species, with only 2000 left in the wild.

Found in only a small part of Colombia, South America, these primates are happy in their tropical Sunshine Coast climate.

The cotton-tops are some of the exotic animals visitors to Queensland Zoo can touch.

Animal lovers also can get up close and feed the binturong bear cats, get a photo with the red pandas, step inside the enclosure of the white tufted-ear marmoset, and feed honey and fruit to the zoo's sun bear, Marly.

With the animals all coming from Alma Park Zoo, many of the zookeepers have travelled to stay with the animals they helped raise.

Senior zookeeper Lorna Mitchell is one of them.

Lorna helped design and build many of the enclosures at Queensland Zoo to ensure they were just right for the exotic and native animals.

As we fed Marly the sun bear, it was clear Lorna knew the animals well.

"She's a bit grumpy now, but she's good natured," Lorna said.

"As long as she's got food or honey in her tummy, she's happy."

Marly is the only sun bear in Queensland and only one of a few in Australia.

Being a solitary animal, Marly is constantly entertained throughout the day with games and being fed.

For more information on Queensland Zoo, visit http://www.qldzoo.com.

COTTON-TOP TAMARINS

  • Native to a small part of Colombia, South America
  • They are critically endangered, with only about 2000 left in the wild
  • They communicate by tongue-flicking and raising their hair
  • Their omnivorous diet includes insects, eggs and fruit
  • Cotton-tops play an important role in the ecosystem by swallowing fruit seeds whole, which assist in seed germination

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