Yes yes, well done (almost) everyone: yesterday’s so-called mystery picture was indeed of a takin calf Budorcas taxicolor, and yes it’s the offspring of the individuals that I was talking about seeing at Marwell Zoological Park back in 2006. This particular photo was taken by Graeme Elliott (I think)…
Besides the thickset look of the whole animal, clues that give away the calf’s identity include the dark vertebral stripe, the chunky forelimbs, and the big, bulky lateral hooves (or dewclaws). Takins use their big dewclaws to aid their footing on hilly, rocky places. Takins occur today in western China, Bhutan, Assam and elsewhere in the eastern Himalayas, but they formerly occurred in north-east China and Mongolia as well, and fossil takins are known from Africa. Of the four subspecies, the calf was an example of the particularly dark Mishmi takin B. t. taxicolor of Tibet, Yunnan, northern Assam and Myanmar. The Shensi or Golden takin B. t. bedfordi is far lighter in colour, and it is sometimes said that the mythical golden fleece of Jason and the argonauts might have been based on a Golden takin pelt. It’s also been suggested that the golden fleece myth comes from the fact that sheep which eat olive tree leaves (and hence ingest oleanolic acid) literally develop a golden fleece (Shuker 1997), or that it refers to the 5th century use of sheep fleece to trap gold particles from streams. There are other suggested origins for the myth too, but I’ll stop there as I’m going off at a tangent.
In fact, apparently, takin are sometimes called Golden-fleeced cows. They produce an ‘oily, strong-smelling substance with a burning taste’ (Geist 2001).
Anyway, to the matter in hand. Ok, so identifying a takin was pretty easy. But what the bloody hell is this then? Answers on a postcard… or, better, in a comment added to this article. Let battle commence.
Refs – –
Geist, V. 2001. Goat antelope species. In MacDonald, D. (ed) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press (Oxford), pp. 574-575.
Shuker, Karl P. N. 1997. From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings. LLewellyn, St. Paul (Minnesota).