Hidden in a fold of the forest-draped hills high above Thimphu, a herd of takin make their home in the Mothithang Takin Preserve. Formerly a small zoo, the king decreed that the animals should be freed rather than kept in captivity. However, instead of wandering deeper into the hills, the tame takin took to the streets of Thimphu, where they became a traffic hazard as they foraged for food. Eventually the animals were returned to this tree-filled park, where they live alongside a small collection of other Himalayan herbivores: muntjac deer, sambar and serow.
The takin owes its special place in Bhutanese culture to the eccentric tantric saint, Drukpa Kunley, who lived in Bhutan five centuries ago. When the Bhutanese people begged Drukpa Kunley to perform a miracle for them, he agreed on the condition that he first be fed a whole cow and a whole goat for lunch. When nothing but a pile of bones remained, Drukpa Kunley reassembled the skeletons, placing the goat’s head on the body of the cow. With a click of his fingers, life was breathed into this bizarre combination, and the takin has walked Bhutan’s hillsides ever since.