The Takin, rare and associated with religious history and mythology, is the national animal of Bhutan. The Takin, also known as the Cattle Chamois or the Gnu Goat, belongs to the genus Budorcas, which means ‘oxlike gazelle’ in Greek. The closest cousin of the takin is the Musk Ox.
This large, muscular, hoofed mammal is sometimes referred to as a goat antelope, because it has things in common with both goats and antelope. But the takin is most closely related to sheep and to the goat-like aoudad, or Barbary sheep, of North Africa.
Of the 4 species of takin, the Budorcas taxicolor whitei is indigenous to Bhutan, and the national animal of our country. Because it was first spotted by John Claude White in 1905, it has been named in his honor.
Takin’s horns are like of wildebeest, a nose like a moose, a tail like a bear and a body like a bison.
Adult males are approximately seven feet long and four feet tall, while females are about five feet long and three feet tall. The takin’s thick shaggy coat nearly covers its six-inch tail. Coats range from pale yellow or golden to rusty brown in color and are marked with a dark stripe along the back.
The large head of a takin has a long, broad nose and arched muzzle. Both males and females have horns which are ribbed at the base and curve upwards. Even-toed ungulates, their stocky legs have strong, massive hooves.
It lives in groups and is found above 4000 meters and feed on a variety of leaves and grasses, as well as bamboo shoots and flowers.
They migrate from the upper pasture to lower, more forested areas in winter and favor sunny spots upon sunrise. When disturbed, individuals give a ‘cough’ alarm call and the herd retreats into thick bamboo thickets and lies on the ground for camouflage.
Drukpa Kinley arrived in Wandi Phodrang. The Bhutanese devotees and mistresses greeted the Divine Madman in Samtengang. They served him a goat’s head and a carcass of beef.
Drukpa Kinley was a yogi and poet popularly known as ‘the Divine Madman who renounced the ascetic life of a monk for a more lighthearted and fun lifestyle. He is legendary for drinking wine, being promiscuous, and using his ‘Flaming Thunderbolt’ to strike down and subdue evil demons.
Although Drukpa Kinley’s methods are considered blasphemous and crude, he is considered Bhutan’s patron saint and is highly regarded as one if it’s greatest spiritual leaders
Once he was done with devour, he took the goat’s head and attached it to the headless skeleton of the cow.
‘You have no flesh on your bones.’ The Lama said to the assembled bones. ‘Go up to the mountain and graze!’ He snapped his fingers and to astonishment of all gathered, the assembled bones began to breath. Then the beast rose and ran up the valley and grazed.
This species of animal with a goat’s head and cow’s body can still be seen in that valley today. It is called takin and found in eastern Himalayas.
Documentation in the West
Takin has always been a subject of great interest to our visitors. The animal is believed to be made up of an ox, the antelope, a sheep and a goat. Because the takin is a rare and endemic to the eastern Himalayas, Europeans have always been curious.
In addition to White, two other Englishmen were also fascinated with the animal and wrote about it.
In 1905, a British political officer photographed a baby takin in Bhutan, in its natural habitat. In doing so, John Claude White (1853-1918) became the first European to obtain documentary evidence of the ungulate animal.
Until then, the West considered the takin as a mythological animal and believed it was the 8th century Greek mythological animal, the gold-hair winged ram.
Another English political officer, Charles Bell (1870-1945), a distinguished Tibetologist, who also authored a book on Bhutan, learnt about the animal from a Bhutanese. Bell was so intrigued by the animal and the mythology surrounding the creation of it that he researched and recorded the creation in his draft book on Bhutan:
The other Englishman, fascinated with the takin, was Malcolm Lyell (1921- 2011). Lyell was a close friend of our third and fourth kings. In the 1970’s, he trekked through the natural habitat of the takin in the northern part of Bhutan, an area that was largely restricted.
While White may have been the first to take a photograph of the takin, Lyell was certainly the first to take a color photograph of the takin. Lyell took photos of baby takins that were being brought into the capital from the highlands.
Motithang Takin Preserve
Motithang Takin Preserve in Motithang, Thimphu is a wildlife reserve for takin. Originally a mini-zoo, it was converted into a preserve on discovering that the takins refrained from inhabiting the surrounding forests even when set free.
Threat and Conservation
Takin is categorized as the vulnerable in the 2003 IUCN Red List of the Threatened Species and in listed under the Appendix II of CITIES.
India, Bhutan, and China all have laws prohibiting takin hunting, but despite their size and defenses, local people hunt takins regularly for their meat, both within and outside protected areas.
The main cause for their declining numbers is the loss of their habitat. Farming, mining, pasture burning, cane and bamboo cutting, and road construction have destroyed large areas of takin habitat.
As human populations grow, they encroach on areas occupied by takins. Sometime these activities also fragment the remaining habitat, disrupting migration routes and dividing takin herds. Domestic livestock trample vegetation, compete for food, and transmit diseases to takins.