Mengyao and Xing Fu, the Sichuan takin baby boys born January 31 and February 9 to two different mothers at Lincoln Park Zoo, are welcome arrivals. They’ve charmed visitors and zoo staff with their lively play in the takin herd’s yard at the Antelope & Zebra Area.
Jinse, one of the zoo’s adult female takins, spends time with the two male offspring recently born at the zoo.
Their successful births are part of a much larger population planning strategy among zoos throughout the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Since 2008 I’ve served as coordinator of the AZA’s Sichuan Takin Species Survival Plan (SSP), a shared conservation effort on behalf of this unique goat-antelope species that’s become vulnerable to hunting and habitat loss in its native mountainous habitat in China.
We’ve cared for takins at the zoo since 2000. Our herd has been growing and changing ever since, highlighted by two births in spring 2007 and this year’s additions to the family. The current herd consists of one adult male (Quanli), two adult females (Jinse and Mei Li, the latter born here in 2007), and the two new male offspring.
Takins are normally found in mixed-sex herds in the wild. Females give birth in the spring, and some adult males remain with the herd year-round. The adults in the zoo’s herd were given a breeding recommendation through the SSP. As their offspring grow, the herd will remain basically the same.
In our case, Quanli is slightly inquisitive but mostly seems to act like his kids are not there. The kids interact with their father from time to time, depending on their boldness. Jinse and Mei Li will continue their social interactions with each other, which are determined by their individual status. Mei Li defers to Jinse, who is older and more assertive, although with takins age has less to do with dominance.
The two boys should be spending a lot of time together as they grow. When they become sexually mature at 1–2 years old, they will need to be removed from the herd as the adults’ attitudes toward them changes. Males will spar with each other in the presence of females, for instance, so it’s best to avoid the risk of injury.
Wild takin are very gregarious and live in small to very large mixed-sex herds. Females with offspring can be found with adult and sub-adult males throughout the year. Some older bulls are solitary outside the breeding season, but other males may form loosely aligned all-male or bachelor herds for part of the year.
Not all herd species permit adult males to remain with the offspring. To prepare for such possibilities at zoos, animal-care staff often set aside additional holding spaces and separate adult males from the group in the event of successful breeding. At Lincoln Park Zoo, this applies to Grevy’s zebras and Bactrian camels.
There are several AZA institutions that provide appropriate housing for takin bachelor groups—an invaluable service. Bachelor herds at zoos conform to a naturally occurring social situation and also provide visitors with dynamic, educational exhibits.
The herd dynamics of Sichuan takins are certainly working in the SSP’s favor at Lincoln Park Zoo. Since Quanli can be kept in the herd with his male offspring until they mature, we don’t need to create additional spaces at this time, and we can display the type of socially complex family breeding unit that exists in the wild.
Dave Bernier is Lincoln Park Zoo’s General Curator.
Learn More About the Takins
Two Tiny Takins
President and CEO Kevin Bell announces two tiny additions to the Sichuan takin herd at the Antelope & Zebra Area. Learn more about the herd...and its most playful members.
Announcing the Names
Thanks to all the fans who voted for names for our two tiny takins! Xing Fu and Mengyao are the winners—learn what they mean at the link.
Takin Pregnancy Test
Hormone analysis, research and scientific collaboration contributed to the successful births of two male takins.
Field Note: Sichuan Takin
We profile this unique goat-antelope species as the zoo’s own herd grows at the Antelope & Zebra Area.