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June 2012
Contents / home
Hornbills get taste of the wild
International Year of the Rhino
DIY: Build a bat box
Holiday courses
Biodiversity Youth Symposium
Community produce animal food
Debunking myths around owls
Air Force knee deep in mud!
NZG display draws crowds
Solving wildebeest dilemma
Tick-borne disease mystery
Inspiring aspirant vets
ZooClub in scientific mode
Science going places
Talkin' about takins
Conservation Grapevine
 

Talkin' about takins

 
  To survive the bitter cold winters in the Himalayan Mountains, takins have adaptations such as a thick secondary coat and a large moose-like snout with big sinus cavities to warm up the air that they inhale, which saves them from losing body heat.
 
  The "Golden Fleece" sought by Jason in Greek mythology is believed to be from a Golden takin.
 
  Takins are found in Southeast Asia in mountainous regions in the Himalayan Mountains and western China at altitudes of between 1000 and 4500m above sea level. Their habitat varies from forested valleys to rocky and grass covered alpine zones.
 
  Leye, the Sichuan or Tibetan takin at the NZG. It is well worth paying her a visit.
 
  A "goat with attitude". The takin is one of the larger and stockier of the goat antelopes.
So what do you call an animal that has horns like a wildebeest, a nose like a moose, a tail like a bear and a body like a bison? A takin of course ...

A takin (Budorcas taxicolor) is a goat antelope which is found in the Eastern Himalayas. They are national treasures of China and Bhutan's national animal. There are four subspecies - the Golden or Shanxi takin (B.t. bedfordi), the Mishmi takin (B.t. taxicolor), the Sichuan or Tibetan takin (B.t. tibetana) and the Bhutan or White's takin (B.t. whitei). These subspecies are distinguished by the variation in their coat colours.

Appearance

Out of all the goat antelope, the takin is one of the stockiest, most muscular and largest and has two-toed hooves to support its short legs. It has a large head with an arched nose, with both sexes having stout horns that are ridged at the base and turn upwards to a small point. The horns are around 30cm long.

The takin's shaggy coat is dense and light in colour (some described as thick golden or yellow wool) with a dark strip along their back and a black under-belly. The males (bulls) have darker faces. A takin stands 100-130 cm at the shoulder, has a body length of 170-220 cm and can weigh up to 400kg.

Adaptations

To survive the bitter cold winters in the Himalayan Mountains, takins have adaptations such as a thick secondary coat and a large moose-like snout with big sinus cavities to warm up the air that they inhale before it reaches its lungs, which prevents them from losing body heat. They also have a strong-smelling, bitter-tasting oily substance that is secreted over their whole body that insulates them in storms and fog. As another adaptation, they have dew claws to help them live in their mountainous environment.

Diet and behaviour

Takins eat almost any type of vegetation, from tough leaves of evergreens, bamboo and pine bark to new growth, shoots and herbs. They also graze on a variety of grasses, leaves, buds, shoots and alpine and deciduous plants as they live in altitudes above 4300m. They mainly feed in the early mornings and late afternoons and rest in between. Salt plays an important part in their diet and they may stay at mineral deposits for several days.

During the spring and summer months, herds of over 100 individuals gather on the high mountain slopes, but in winter these herds split up and migrate from the upper pastures to lower forested areas looking for food. Generally male takins live singly and others in small herds of approximately 20 individuals in the mountains, normally below the timberline. Herds are mainly made up of adult females (cows), young takins (kids) and young males. Bulls are generally solitary except in mating season in the late summer months.

Takins are generally slow moving, but can move about easily and quickly over the slopes assisted by their dew claws, and can react quickly if necessary. If takins are threatened, a loud cough alarm call will be given out and the herd will retreat and lie down in the thickets for camouflage.

Takins have few natural enemies because of their large powerful bodies and solid horns; their only main predators are bears and wolves. Takins can also utter an intimidating roar or bellow. They do this by opening their mouth and sticking out their tongue.

Takins reach sexual maturity at the age of two and a half years and have a gestation period of six to eight months, giving birth to one young at a time in spring. Their average lifespan in the wild is up to 15 years and up to 19 years in zoos. Zookeepers will caution you not to be fooled by takins as they are "goats with attitude" and will rarely enter enclosures with a takin in them.

Conservation status

The takin species is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. The Golden takin and Mishmi takin (subspecies) are endangered and the Sichuan takin and White's takin (subspecies) are vulnerable. Takins are hunted for their meat and their numbers are declining due to habitat loss. In China, the takin is protected under Chinese law and reserves have been developed for their protection along with the giant pandas.

At the NZG

The NZG has a female Sichuan or Tibetan takin (B.t. tibetana) called Leye. She was captive born at the San Diego Zoo on 10 February 1997. Leye has been on display at the NZG since 8 May 2000 and can be seen across from the seals at the top of the zoo. It is well worth paying her a visit.

Fun facts

  • The "Golden Fleece" sought by Jason in Greek mythology is believed to be from a Golden takin.
  • Budorcas taxicolor is a Tibeto-Burman name. Bu (Greek) an ox; dorcas (Greek) a gazelle, a gazelle-like ox. Taxus (New Latin) a badger; color (Latin) colour, i.e. badger-coloured - a yellowish-gray.
  • At some zoos, takins have been seen jumping walls of 1.8m from a standing start.
  • Recent DNA studies have revealed that the takin is closely related to sheep.

By Claire Fordred, Intern, NZG


 
GivenGain
Zoo and Aquarium Visitor