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Observations on a legend: takin in the wild.

Alongside the panda in China's remote and rugged mountain forests lives an even larger and more obscure animal. Called the takin, this least known of all the large hoofed animals weighs up to 650 pounds and may stand 50 inches high at the shoulder. Some biologists believe that one of the three subspecies of takin was the source of the golden fleece that Jason brought to Greece in classical times.

A dense forest habitat with often cloudy and wet weather long hid the takin lifestyle from naturalists. But while studying giant pandas in northern Sichuan, George B. Schaller of the New York Zoological Society and his Chinese colleagues recently recorded their encounters with takins. He now presents their findings, along with the first photographs of takins to be published in the Western world, in the September-October issue of the society's magazine, ANIMAL KINGDOM. He says the takin is related to sheep, goats and, most closely, to arctic musk oxen.

Schaller describes the takin as having the bulky, humped body of a bear, the sloping hindquarters of a hyena, the legs of a cow, the tail of a goat, the horns of a wildebeest and the face of a moose with mumps. He writes, "If, as has been said, the camel resembles an animal designed by a committee, then the takin looks like a animal assembled by the same committee from spare parts."

"We were out every day, and when we were lucky we saw a herd of takins crossing an opening," Schaller told SCIENCE NEWS. "More often we saw solitary bulls."

Schaller and Chinese naturalists have begun to compile lists of plants takins eat. "But it might be easier to list the plants they don't eat," Schaller says. He easily tallied more than 100 food species.

Takins have an impressive reach; Schaller observed them balancing on hind legs to nip branch tips 8 feet above the ground. He also reports that a takin can push a thin tree trunk until it breaks, and that the animal can bend and straddle a tree trunk that is up to 5 inches in diameter for leisurely browsing.

In the spring, Schaller observed a herd of about 100 females and their offspring leaving the forest for a clearing. Several young bulls and yearlings came bucking and bounding, followed by females leaping sedately but rather gracelessly. "It puzzled me [at first] to see no young," Schaller says. "But then they came, all together--a tumble of takin, dark-brown and fuzzy--gamboling after one female." He reports that the young spend many hours each day tended by one female in a "kindergarten" while the mothers forage and socialize.

Although it is overshadowed by the panda in the friends in high places, Schaller says. The Chinese government has given the animal full protection and created two takin preserves. In addition, the takin, whose population is thought to be several thousand, benefits from the 12 reserves established for pandas. The only takin in the United States, at the Catskill (N.Y.) Game Farm, was captured in the 1960s before the animals became protected. Takins are on exhibit in the zoo in East Berlin and in a few zoos in China. The Chinese government now prohibits the export of takins to foreign zoos.

"The takin's habits are still relatively unknown--how far herds roam, how flexible the herd composition is, what are the reproductive and death rates," Schaller says. "I think that with the next few years, a more intensive [observation] effort will be made."
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Title Annotation:rare hoofed-animal of China
Author:Miller, Julie Ann
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 7, 1985
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