Field Note: Sichuan Takin
Budorcas taxicolor tibetana
Takins take their time. “Rush hour” doesn’t factor into their migratory lexicon as these nimble but slow-moving goat-antelopes browse among the bamboo and rhododendron groves of their mountainous eastern Himalayan home turf. Their range winds through China, Tibet and Myanmar. (They’re revered as Myanmar’s flagship fauna.)
The kids are live wires by comparison. They make for rambunctious playmates and can follow their mothers across challenging terrain just three days after birth. Herds comprise cows, kids, juveniles and young males. Bulls are solitary, joining the herd only during mating season in late summer. Cows give birth to one kid, gestation lasts seven to eight months and takins sexually mature within three years.
Caregivers have hopes of welcoming a kid to the zoo’s herd. The Sichuan Takin Species Survival Plan® (SSP) has recommended breeding in the group, which includes 6-year-old male Quan Li and two adult females, Jinse, 8, and Mae Li, born at the zoo in 2007. The SSP is a shared conservation effort among zoos to protect the massive mammal, which has become vulnerable to hunting and habitat loss caused by farming, mining and logging operations. Lincoln Park Zoo General Curator Dave Bernier serves as SSP Coordinator.
These generalist herbivores—which look like creatures conjured by Dr. Seuss with bison-like bodies, moose noses, wildebeest horns and bear tails—aren’t picky about plants. In the wild, takins fluctuate between small herds in winter, descending to forested valleys to feed on twigs and evergreen leaves, and teeming congregations of up to 300 animals in spring and summer, when alpine zones provide a leafy salad bar.
Here, keepers stimulate the resident herd’s grazing instincts by scattering grains, fresh greens and occasionally fruits and sweet potatoes. “Now that it’s summer, we give them browse again, too,” says Zoological Manager Dan Boehm, “edible trees and plants they’ll nibble on as they would in the wild.”
Published in Lincoln Park Zoo Magazine, Summer 2012