Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
bedfordi (Shensi or golden)
Length: 5 to 7.3 feet (1.5 to 2.2 meters)
Height at shoulder: 3.3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters)
Weight: males, up to 880 pounds (400 kilograms); females, up to 550 pounds (250 kilograms)
Life span: 12 to 15 years in the wild, up to 19 years in zoos
Gestation: 6 to 7 months
Number of young at birth: 1 (twins are uncommon)
Weight at birth: 11 to 15 pounds (5 to 7 kilograms)
Age of maturity: 2 years
Conservation status: Mishmi and Shensi takins are endangered
Takins, like giant pandas, are considered national treasures in China.
It is believed that the "golden fleece" sought by Jason in Greek mythology was a Shensi, or golden takin Budorcus taxicolor bedfordi, pelt.
The first Sichuan takin Budorcus taxicolor tibetana born outside of China was born at the San Diego Zoo in 1989; the first Mishmi takin Budorcus taxicolor taxicolor born in the New World was born at the Zoo in 1993.
Takins at the San Diego Zoo have been known to jump 6-foot (1.8-meter) Zoo walls from a standing start!
Talkin' about takins
With horns like a wildebeest, a nose like a moose, a tail like a bear, and a body like a bison, the takin (rhymes with rockin') looks like a character from Dr. Seuss! This large, muscular hoofed mammal is sometimes referred to as a goat antelope because it has things in common with both goats and antelope.
Protection from the cold
Takins have some neat adaptations that help them stay warm and dry during the bitter cold of winter in the Himalayan Mountains. A thick, secondary coat is grown to keep out the chill. They also have a very noteworthy nose! The large, moose-like snout has big sinus cavities to warm up the air a takin inhales before it gets to the lungs. Without this adaptation, takins would lose a large amount of body heat just by breathing. Yet another protection is their oily skin. Although they have no skin glands, their skin secretes an oily, bitter-tasting substance that acts as a natural raincoat in storms and fog. Streaks of this oily stuff can be seen where takins rub up against the walls of their enclosures at the San Diego Zoo! They also have an odor that smells like a strange combination of horse and musk.
Bunch to munch
Takins eat in the early morning and again in the late afternoon, and they rest when they are not feeding. Since they live at altitudes above 14,000 feet (4,300 meters), they feed on many kinds of alpine and deciduous plants and evergreens. When it comes to food, takins eat almost any vegetation within reach. This includes the tough leaves of evergreen rhododendrons and oaks, willow and pine bark, bamboo leaves, and a variety of new-growth leaves and herbs. They can easily stand on their hind legs, front legs propped against a tree, to reach for higher vegetation if they need to. If the tastiest leaves are out of reach, takins have been known to use their powerful bodies to push over small trees to bring those leaves closer!
Up and down
Each spring, takins gather in large herds and migrate up the mountains to the tree line. As cooler weather approaches and food becomes scarce, the takins move down to forested valleys. As they move up, down, or across the mountains, takins use the same routes over and over. This creates a series of well-worn paths through the dense growths of bamboo and rhododendrons that lead to their natural salt licks and grazing areas.
Big herd, little herd
The size of a takin herd changes with the seasons: during spring and early summer, herds can number up to 300 animals; during cooler months, when food is less plentiful, the large herds break up into smaller groups of 10 to 35 takins as they head down the mountain. Herds are made up of adult females (called cows), kids (which is what takin young are called), subadults, and young males. Older males, called bulls, are generally solitary except during the "rut," or mating season, in late summer. The cows give birth to a single kid in early spring.
Within three days of its birth, a takin kid is able to follow its mother through most types of terrain. This is very important if predators are nearby or if the herd needs to travel a long distance for food. Young takins are much more frisky than their parents. They kick up their heels, head butt, and frolic with each other.
Because of their large, powerful bodies and impressive horns, takins have few natural enemies other than bears or wolves. They are generally slow moving but can react quickly if angered or frightened. When needed, a takin can leap nimbly from rock to rock. If a takin senses danger, it warns the others with a loud "cough" that sends the herd running for cover. Takins can also make an intimidating roar or bellow. They look a bit silly as they do this, with their mouths open and tongues sticking out, but don't be fooled: keepers call them "goats with attitude" and never enter the enclosures with the takins.
Takins in trouble
In spite of their size and defenses, takins are hunted for meat in the wild. But the main cause of their declining numbers is the loss of their habitat due to farming, mining, and logging operations. China has given the takin full protection under Chinese law, and two reserves have been created for the protection of Sichuan takins Budorcas taxicolor tibetana. These animals also share habitat with giant pandas, so land has also been set aside for these and many other animal species.
A success story
The San Diego Zoo's breeding program for takins has been extremely successful, and a number of these offspring now make their homes at other North American zoos. The work we do with takins is helping scientists to better understand how to help this species in the wild. However, we still have much to learn about this odd-looking yet majestic goat antelope of Asia.