|Takin at Roger Williams Park Zoo|
|Distribution of the takin|
The takin (Budorcas taxicolor; //), also called cattle chamois or gnu goat, is a large species of ungulate of the subfamily Caprinae found in the eastern Himalayas. It includes four subspecies: the Mishmi takin (B. t. taxicolor), the golden takin (B. t. bedfordi), the Tibetan (or Sichuan) takin (B. t. tibetana), and the Bhutan takin (B. t. whitei).
Whilst the takin has in the past been placed together with the muskox in the tribe Ovibovini, more recent mitochondrial research shows a closer relationship to Ovis (sheep). Its physical similarity to the muskox is therefore an example of convergent evolution. The takin is the national animal of Bhutan.
The takin rivals the muskox as the largest and stockiest of the subfamily Caprinae, which includes goats, sheep, and similar species. Its short legs are supported by large, two-toed hooves, which each have a highly developed spur. It has a stocky body and a deep chest. Its large head is distinctive by its long, arched nose and stout horns, which are ridged at the base. These horns are present in both sexes, and run parallel to the skull before turning upwards to a short point; they are about 30 cm (12 in) long, but can grow up to 64 cm (25 in). Its long, shaggy coat is light in color with a dark stripe along the back, and males (bulls) also have dark faces.
Four subspecies of takin are currently recognised, and these tend to show a variation in coat colour. Their thick wool often turns black in colour on their undersides and legs. Their overall coloration ranges from dark blackish to reddish-brown suffused with greyish-yellow in the eastern Himalayas to lighter yellow-gray in the Sichuan Province to mostly golden or (rarely) creamy-white with fewer black hairs in the Shaanxi Province.
The legend of the 'golden fleece' sought by Jason and the Argonauts may have been inspired by the lustrous coat of the golden takin (B. t. bedfordi). Hair length can range from 3 cm (1.2 in), on the flanks of the body in summer, up to 24 cm (9.4 in) on the underside of the head in winter.
In height, takin stand 97 to 140 cm (38 to 55 in) at the shoulder, but measure a relatively short 160–220 cm (63–87 in) in head-and-body length, with the tail adding only an additional 12 to 21.6 cm (4.7 to 8.5 in). Measurements of weights vary, but according to most reports, the males are slightly larger, weighing 300–350 kg (660–770 lb) against 250–300 kg (550–660 lb) in females. Sources including Betham (1908) report that females are larger, with the largest captive takin known to the author, at 322 kg (710 lb), having been female. Takin can weigh up to 400 kg (880 lb) or 600 kg (1,300 lb) in some cases.
Instead of relying on localized scent glands, the takin secretes an oily, strong-smelling substance over its whole body, enabling it to mark objects such as trees. A prominent nose with a swollen appearance caused biologist George Schaller to liken the takin to a "bee-stung moose." Features reminiscent of familiar domesticated species have earned takins such nicknames as "cattle chamois" and "gnu goat."
Takin are found from forested valleys to rocky, grass-covered alpine zones, at altitudes between 1,000 and 4,500 m (3,300 and 14,800 ft) above sea level. The Mishmi takin occurs in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, while the Bhutan takin is in western Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan. Dihang-Dibang Biosphere Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, India is a stronghold of both Mishmi, Upper Siang (Kopu) and Bhutan takins.
Takin are found in small family groups of around 20 individuals, although older males may lead more solitary existences. In the summer, herds of up to 300 individuals gather high on the mountain slopes. Groups often appear to occur in largest numbers when favorable feeding sites, salt licks, or hot springs are located. Mating takes place in July and August. Adult males compete for dominance by sparring head-to-head with opponents, and both sexes appear to use the scent of their own urine to indicate dominance. A single young is born after a gestation period of around eight months. Takin 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.
Takin feed in the early morning and late afternoon, grazing on a variety of leaves and grasses, as well as bamboo shoots and flowers. They have been observed standing on their hind legs to feed on leaves over 3.1 m (10 ft) high. Salt is also an important part of their diets, and groups may stay at a mineral deposit for several days.
The takin is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and considered Endangered in China. It is threatened by overhunting and the destruction of its natural habitat. It is not a common species naturally, and the population appears to have been reduced considerably. Takin horns have appeared in the illegal wildlife trade in Myanmar; and during three surveys carried out from 1999 to 2006 in the Tachilek market, a total of 89 sets of horns were observed openly for sale.