The Divine Madman and the Takin of Bhutan

The madman then took the head of the goat, attached it to the skeleton of the cow, clapped his hands and, to the surprise of the whole village, the skeleton grew a full body, jumped up and ran into the meadow and began feeding.The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan and, to be honest, it is one of the strangest animals I have ever seen.

On my last trip to Bhutan we were hoping to see this creature in the wild but we settled on seeing them at the national rescue centre on the outskirts of the capital city.

On this particular visit I was accompanied by Vivek Menon, the author of "The Mammals of India", who is very well regarded in biological circles.

I really did not know what to expect and when I first saw a Takin standing there I wasn’t sure what to say.

Traveling with biologists has its great advantages but there are moments when it is best to simply keep quiet and listen so you don’t sound too dumb.

Staring at a Takin, and trying to figure out what it is, definitely is one of those moments.

“So”, I said after listening for a while.  “Is the Takin an antelope?”

“Not really”, came the reply.

“Not really?”  What an odd thing for an expert to say.  I was expecting them to laugh at me and set me straight.

Feeling a bit more encouraged, I said, “ah, so it is some sort of a mountain goat.”

“Not really,” came the reply once again.

Remember that I am standing beside an accredited biologist and a contributor to the book, The Mammals of Bhutan and these people can usually tell you the Latin name (Budorcas taxicolor by the way) of pretty much anything that moves and then give you the taxonomy and any number of facts that come to mind.

Being in the presence of a Takin, however, was clearly causing interference and I was getting very fuzzy answers.

“Well, I will be honest with you”, I said, “I didn’t want to say it but this thing looks like some sort of cow.”

Is the Bhuttanese Takin a cow with the head of a goat?

I was expecting them to laugh me back into the minibus but there was a sort of nervous shuffling and then they admitted that there is quite a bit of controversy about the taxonomy of this particular animal.

My casual observations had pretty much hit all the animals that come to mind when you look at a Takin and, apparently, the experts are somewhat confused as well.

The Takin is considered “Vulnerable’ due to the fact that it has to compete with local domesticated Yaks for its food and its habitat is being broken up by road building and commercial logging.

A male Takin can weigh up to 1,000 Kilogrammes and it wanders up to 3,500 metres in its native Himalayas so I am sure not many of us ever get to see one.

The Takin we were looking at were rescued and brought to the centre for treatment and The International Fund for Animal Welfare was being asked to provide technical expertise on providing better living conditions and medical treatment for the animals while they were in captivity.

“So, what exactly is a Takin?” I persisted.

Science slipped away and my Bhutanese host told me the story of the Divine Madman, a Wise and Crazy saint known as Lam Drukpa Kunley.

One day Drukpa Kunley was asked to perform a miracle by the local villagers and he told them he would if they would first bring him a cow and a goat to eat.

The villagers, a bit confused, prepared the roasted cow and the goat and presented it to the Divine Madman who immediately devoured both of them in ten minutes.  There was nothing left but the cleaned bones.

The madman then took the head of the goat, attached it to the skeleton of the cow, clapped his hands and, to the surprise of the whole village, the skeleton grew a full body, jumped up and ran into the meadow and began feeding.

The Takin was born.

“So, you are telling me this animal is a cow with the head of a goat?” I said only half kidding.

“You know, Azzedine,” my host said with a smile, “its time we had some tea.”

And that was that.  That is all I can tell you about the Takin and, just perhaps, that is all we need to know.

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Comments: 1

5 years ago

My name is Ms. Long, and my 5th grade Reading class is reading about the Kingdom of Bhutan, and the origin of the Takin, so I decided to look it up on the I-highway. We love your presentation, and will print it out along with the picture of the TAKIN! The kids just love learning this bit of history and folklore. So thanks from Ms. Longs' 5th grade class!!!

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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Gail A'Brunzo, IFAW Wildlife Rescue Manager
Wildlife Rescue Manager, IFAW HQ
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Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
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