Monday, September 27, 2010

Taking in the takin.

I guess every country has a national animal and for Bhutan, it's the takin ("tah-kin"). In my pre-trip research, I had come across mention of an animal named the takin but I knew absolutely nothing about it other than that.

From the Gagyel Lhendup Weaving Center, we headed somewhere into the outskirts of Thimphu. I had no idea where were going except that we would be seeing takin.


We got dropped off in a parking lot and Tenzing told us that it would be a short walk up to see the takin.  It was beautiful day....perfect in fact for a walk through a trail in the woods.

The woods ended up in a clearing with a very large fenced in area.  Now known as the Motithang Takin Preserve, the area was originally established as a mini-zoo. The king decided that such a facility was not in keeping with Bhutan's environmental and religious convictions and so it was disbanded some time ago.

The animals were released into the wild but the takins, Bhutan's national animal, were so tame that they wandered around the streets of Thimphu looking for food, and the only solution was to put them back into captivity.

I had no idea what a takin looks like so when I first approached the enclosure, I didn't know what to look for.  The first animals I saw I thought like deer but takin maybe??  No, they were in fact deer.  And we saw quite a few deer.  I was getting disappointed at not seeing any takin and was beginning to wonder if they were an elusive creature.  Maybe something nocturnal.  Then someone hollered, "over here" and we all scurried up to a section in the enclosure where there was very oddball looking animal peering back at us from the other side of the fence.



As best I can describe a takin, it has the head of an mountain goat and the body of a bear with fur that is slightly curly.  Apparently, they are a member of a family of animals commonly called "goat-antelope".

From Wikipedia:
"Takin stand 100 to 130 cm (39 to 51 in) at the shoulder and weigh up to 350 kg (770 lb). They have been likened to a "bee-stung moose", because of the swollen appearance of the face. They are covered in a thick golden wool which turns black on the under-belly. Both sexes have small horns which run parallel to the skull and then turn upwards in a short point, these are around 30 cm (12 in) long.

Takin are found in bamboo forests at altitudes of 1,000 to 4,500 metres (3,300 to 15,000 ft), where they eat grass, buds and leaves. Takin are diurnal, active in the day, resting in the heat on particularly sunny days. Takin gather in small herds in winter and herds of up to a hundred individuals in the summer; old males are solitary." 

So of all the animals on the planet Earth that Bhutan could have picked as a national symbol, why did they pick this odd looking one?  According to Wikipedia, the takin was selected because of....
"....its uniqueness and its strong association with the country's religious history and mythology. According to legend, when Lama Drukpa Kunley (called "the divine madman") visited Bhutan in the 15th century, a large congregation of devotees gathered around the country to witness his magical powers. The people urged the lama to perform a miracle. However, the saint, in his usual unorthodox and outrageous way, demanded that he first be served a whole cow and a goat for lunch. He devoured these with relish and left only bones. After letting out a large and satisfied burp, he took the goat's head and stuck it onto the bones of the cow. And then with a snap of his fingers, he commanded the strange beast to rise up and graze on the mountainside. To the astonishment of the people the animal arose and ran up to the meadows to graze. This animal came to be known as the dong gyem tsey (takin) ...."
Only two takins walked over to the part of the enclosure that we were standing at and they did seem to be very tame.....not a peep out of them so I have no idea what a takin sounds like. 

While adult takins look a bit unusual looking, baby takins are sooo cute.  They have yet to grow their horns, their backs are still straight and their fur is more brown and straight. 


Aside from the deer and the takin, there were no other animals in the enclosure.  Though we could have all left after just a few minutes, it was such a beautiful day to be outside, we all took our time wandering the grounds of the preserve.   On my way back to the van, I spotted Ross standing in a ravine.  Turned out he had discovered a small stream running through the woods and he decided to splash water all over himself to cool off.  I clamored down the hill to join him and after dipping my hand into the water, I decided he must have ice water running through his veins cause the water was chillingly cold!!  No way I was going to splash any of that water over any part of my body :-)  We eventually made our way out of the ravine and to the van. 

A walk in the woods and a chance to see a very unusual animal, our visit to the Motithang Takin Preserve was a brief, but a very enjoyable break from touring through monasteries and factories!