Meet the Takin
A large, mysterious mammal, the takin roams Asian mountains and bamboo thickets. The takin—which can reach weights up to 770 pounds (350 kg)— is arguably the largest terrestrial mammal that lives in obscurity. While it is the national mammal of Bhutan, it is not a widely known or appreciated species.
The takin is in the mammalian family Bovidae that also includes antelopes, oxen, sheep and goats, among others. It probably most closely resembles a less-shaggy musk ox, but it is actually more closely related to wild sheep.
Despite its bulk, the takin moves easily down steep mountain slopes and through thick bamboo forests. Its big nose helps it navigate the cold, high-elevation air. Takins eat a large variety of plants including such seemingly unpalatable forage as rhododendron and evergreen trees. Takins travel trails to salt licks, which undoubtedly provide minerals but may also help neutralize plant toxins.
The takin is adapted to its mountainous environment in Asia. While its range includes many countries – including parts of India, Bhutan and Myanmar—most naturalists and hard-core mammal watchers encounter the species in China. Strangely enough, there it shares its range with one of the most beloved and well-known of large mammals, the giant panda.
Protecting the Takin
Takin populations are decreasing because of habitat loss and hunting, and they are now labeled a vulnerable species by IUCN. Luckily, much of The Nature Conservancy’s work to protect panda habitat will benefit takin populations as well.
In 2013, the Conservancy initiated China’s first land trust reserve: 27,325-acre Laohegou Land Trust Reserve. Laohegou links several existing reserves in Sichuan’s Pingwu County that together sustain a wide array of plants and animals, including takin.
The Chinese government has established more than 2,500 nature reserves throughout the country, but most aren’t well funded or actively managed. And, until recently, China’s strict landownership laws made it difficult for non-governmental organizations to play a significant role in land protection. But in 2008—while maintaining ownership of all land—the government opened the door for Chinese private entities to hold forestland use rights.
Now, The Nature Conservancy is testing a model that will enable Chinese land trusts to protect and sustainably manage China’s most important lands and waters, provide livelihood solutions for communities living near reserves, and create a mechanism to finance long-term reserve management through private contributions.
Our goal is to create 10 land trust reserves together with our partners by the end of 2020. Over time, we aim to mobilize the private sector to protect China’s land through voluntary action.
The Conservancy and others are also working to tie nearby villages into a sustainable economy so people won’t have to venture into the reserves to hunt, fish or gather resources. To start, TNC is helping jump-start a guesthouse and an agriculture program that connects farmers to high-end markets for sustainable food products. It has already generated $300,000 through catalog orders for things like honey, eggs, chickens, sausage and persimmons.
This is just one of many ways that TNC is working with people to protect wildlife like takin.