Sichuan Takin Flourish at China’s Wild Panda Nature Reserve

By Nat Hab Expedition Leader Eddy Savage 

What if I told you that deep in the foothills of the Himalayas, in Sichuan Province, China, lived an animal whose closest living relative is the muskox? Seems a bit out of place for a sub-tropical latitude? Well, it’s true. This beautiful, partly blonde-colored goat antelope dwells in the rugged mountains at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. An unknown number of these subspecies are found in the Min and Qionglai Mountains of Sichuan Province, China, but estimates suggest around 5,000 animals. There have been a few population studies, but efforts are usually stymied given the remoteness and ruggedness of the terrain they live in. Their habitat consists of steep mountains with diverse plant life and plenty of under-story bamboo. The Sichuan takin is currently considered Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. A lot of information about Sichuan takin behavior was documented by researchers in the 1970s who were studying wild giant pandas in a newly established Wild Panda Nature Reserve. We visit one of these highly protected and well-managed Wild Panda Nature Reserves on The Wild Side of China: A Nature Odyssey. Under the umbrella of the giant panda, the Sichuan takin has flourished in this reserve.

Looking at these giants, I often imagine them wearing the long fur coat that muskox wear. Muskox and takin have many similarities: body structure, face shape, and horns. While the takin’s habitat is much different from its Arctic counterpart, its diverse plant-based diet remains similar.

Sichuan Takin

© Eddy Savage

Lush vegetation is an important part of the takin’s habitat, which contains some of the most biodiverse regions outside of tropical rainforests. A takin eats approximately 150 plant species within its habitat, though this is likely more.

Sichuan Takin

© Eddy Savage

Typical groupings of takin see females with young at higher altitudes for most of the year. Male takin, as seen here, tend to stay more solitary or in small groups at lower elevations. They will re-join the herd during the breeding months (summer).

Sichuan Takin

© Eddy Savage

This scene is typical of the takin’s habitat. You’re likely to find them in steep mountainous regions where, within one valley system, you have sub-tropical deciduous forests, temperate coniferous forests and alpine meadows. This provides a year-round food source and reprieve from the humid heat that permeates the valley bottoms during summertime.

© Eddy Savage

This moment was one to remember. We spotted a couple of takin on the hillside as we entered the nature reserve. We watched for a while, and a couple more appeared. We decided to get in our vehicle and continue toward our hotel for the night; however, just as we were about to roll on, I looked over and spotted the rest of the herd emerging from the forest. There was almost no light left in the day, and so I captured a quick, albeit blurry, shot of the whole herd. So cool!

Sichuan Takin herd

© Eddy Savage

The typical lifespan of takin in the wild is 16 to 18 years. Their harsh existence includes frequent climbing of steep mountainsides, river crossings, and challenging winter weather. Here we see a baby takin which had to follow its mother across one of the mountain streams.

Sichuan Takin

© Eddy Savage

And here is the mother who had crossed the stream ahead of her baby. After a 236-day gestation, a 10-15 pound takin is born. The baby will follow mom from 3 days old until upwards of a year. Occasionally, juveniles will stay with mom even once she’s had another baby.

Sichuan Takin

© Eddy Savage

Understory bamboo is an important part of takin habitat. In China, initiatives to protect vast swaths of bamboo forests for giant pandas in the 1970s and 1980s also protected thousands of square miles for Sichuan takin. Fifty years on, strongholds for takin are still in these Wild Panda Nature Reserves.

Sichuan Takin

© Eddy Savage

Cliffs throughout the region have necessary minerals for takin, and these saltlicks make up an important part of their habitat. In the past, this made takins susceptible to poaching efforts. Today, there is much greater protection for these animals, so saltlicks don’t pose the same threat as before.

Sichuan Takin

@ Eddy Savage

The Sichuan takin is a powerful animal. Standing 3 to 4 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing upwards of 600 pounds, these animals easily navigate the rugged mountains. As they age, they tend to spend more time at the bottom of valleys to conserve energy. Often, we’ll see older animals, like this one, close to creeks day after day.

Sichuan Takin

© Eddy Savage

The post Sichuan Takin Flourish at China’s Wild Panda Nature Reserve first appeared on Good Nature Travel Blog.

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