Mitigating Threats To Bhutan’s Beloved National Animal - The Takin
Takins are strictly protected under Schedule I of the Forests and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995.
By Choki Wangmo | Kuensel
Human-induced changes are threatening the habitats of Bhutan’s national animal - the takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei).
According to the first national report on takin by the forest department, linear infrastructure such as the expansion of road and transmission lines as well as improper land-use planning were found to hinder wildlife movement and disturb prime habitats of the species,
The infrastructure developments, if left unchecked, could cause unforeseeable risks to their habitats.
Legend of the takin
There is an interesting myth behind the creation of the Takin, which contributed to its religious significance and adoption as Bhutan’s national animal.
Source: Youtube/Bong Travel o Explore
Legend has it that in the 15th century, when Lam Drukpa Kunley (also referred to as ‘The Divine Madman’), arrived in Bhutan from Tibet, he delivered religious teachings to the people, whereupon they requested him to conjure up a miracle.
Lam Drukpa Kunley agreed, on the condition that he would be fed a massive lunch – a whole cow and a whole goat, which the people dutifully brought.
The Tibetan saint devoured the flesh of both the animals and left out the bones. Thereafter, he fixed the head of the goat onto the body of the cow and with a snap of his fingers uttered a mantra.
The animal sprang to life instantly and started grazing in the meadows. Lam Drukpa Kunley then named it the ‘Dong Gyem Tsey’ (Takin).
Where are takins found?
The takin found in Bhutan is actually one out of four sub-species. It is a large bovid ungulate found along the warm broad-leaved forests throughout the alpine region (between the altitudinal range of 1,200m in warm broadleaved forests to 5,374m in northern Bhutan).
Bhutan’s takin migrates from alpine valleys to lower forests in autumn and return to the summer habitats in early spring.
The species has been reportedly seen in Xizang, China and Sikkim, as well as Arunachal Pradesh in India. Its population is estimated to be between 500-700 individuals.
Takins are found in steep forests extending to the timberline and mountain valleys in the Eastern Himalayas as well as the adjoining mountain ranges of Bhutan, India, Myanmar, and China.
The animal is mostly found in the Jigme Dorji National Park and Wangchuck Centennial National Park. However, the takin can also be seen roaming in the forest divisions of Bhutan’s districts of Paro, Thimphu, and Wangdue.
The report also stated that the winter habitats of the takin were highly vulnerable to anthropogenic pressure due to its closer proximity to human settlements.
“Building roads closer to or within the takin habitats will not only alter the animal behaviour but will also fragment the habitats.”
Recommended solutions to mitigate negative impact of development on takins
To deter negative impact within their habitats, the study recommended that the government should focus on maintaining the existing farm roads rather than building new roads.
“If a new construction is required, it should be cost-effective and environmentally less damaging.”
The current method of ‘cut-fill’ construction involved high costs and is not environmentally friendly.
Experts documented the indirect impact of such developments on wildlife such as: physical barrier for movement and dispersal as well as the displacement and change in habits.
Takins generally prefer continuous gentle terrain and an undisturbed habitat for foraging, finding mates and for their long-term sustenance.
Therefore, low-altitude forested habitats outside protected areas should be incorporated into the takin management plan. These forests should also be protected as takin habitats, according to the report.
Threats to the existence of takins in Bhutan
As takins live in remote areas, far away from high-density human settlements, it increases poaching risk.
Moreover, they are also susceptible to snaring, illegal trapping and disturbance from feral dogs.
The population of takins is found to be decreasing. This is attributed to threats from deforestation, habitat fragmentation, hunting, zoonotic disease transmission, and competition for food from domestic livestock.
Steps have been taken to conserve the species. Bhutan's takin was declared the national animal of Bhutan in 1985 and is strictly protected under Schedule I of the Forests and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995.
In addition, the takin has also been categorised as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.
This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.