spunktitud3

Musings on Travel, Fashion & Fun


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Bhutan – Catch sight of a real-life mythical creature at Motithang Takin Preserve

Takin-x03bAt Motithang Takin Preserve in Thimphu, you will find an interesting animal with the head of a goat and body of a cow. Its creation is linked to local mythology dating back to the 15th century.

Takin-x01The wildlife preserve is located 15 minutes drive outside of Thimphu city, and about 40 minutes by car from Paro. Motithang was originally a mini-zoo which was closed because the King of Bhutan felt it was improper for a Buddhist country to confine animals. The animals in the zoo were released, but the gentle takin which have long been domesticated, didn’t leave the area and ended up roaming the streets of Thimphu in search of food. The 8.4 acre wildlife reserve was thus set up as a place where the takin can roam safely.

Takin-x02Our furry friend trying to masquerade as the mythical creature. So cute!

Takin-x03The wildlife preserve is mostly fenced up with some openings where visitors can take photos and get a clearer look. Otherwise, the privacy of the takin is highly protected.

Takin-x03aAs I gazed into the far woods where the creatures were peacefully grazing, I was quite sure I would never know how they really looked like in real life.

Takin-x03bSo you can imagine my uber excitement when a curious takin made its way down the woods and came near us. I could feel a tingle going down my spine! What an amazing creature, I had never seen anything like it before. My Bhutanese guide proudly told me, “Because it is so special, that’s why we name it as our national animal. It is unique just like Bhutan. ”

Folklore has it that a Tibetan saint by the name of Drukpa Kunley, popularly known as “The Divine Madman” was requested by the Bhutanese people to conjure a miracle before them during one of his religious lectures. The saint agreed to do so provided he was given a whole cow and a whole goat for lunch. After eating both the cow and goat (what a huge appetite!), the saint put the head of the goat on the skeleton of the cow and with a snap of his fingers, the animal sprang up and came to life. The animal was then given the name dong gyem tsey (takin). Since then this animal has been a common sight in the high hills of Bhutan. Because of this magical creation with highly religious association, the animal was named as the national animal of Bhutan on 25th November 1985.

Takin-x03cIn a more realistic context, the takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei), also called cattle chamois or gnu goat, is listed as a vulnerable species of goat-antelope native to Bhutan, India, China and Tibet. Adult takin have a golden yellow and brownish coat while calves are black in colour.

Takin are found from forested valleys to rocky, grass-covered alpine zones, at altitudes between 1,000 and 4,500 m above sea level. They are found in small family groups of around 20 individuals, although older males may lead more solitary existences. In the summer months, herds of up to 300 gather high on the mountain slopes. Salt is also an important part of their diet, and groups may stay at a mineral deposit for several days. So you may chance upon a herd of takin licking on rocks, taking in the salt found in the rocks.

Takin-x04Rather than localised scent glands, the takin has an oily, strong-smelling substance secreted over the whole body which keeps them dry. This is likely the reason for the swollen appearance of its face (I must have takin genes too). Due to this feature, biologist George Schaller likened the takin to a “bee-stung moose” although research has found it to be more related to sheep, mehhh.

When in danger, the takin will give an alarm call that resembles a cough and the herd will retreat into thick bamboo thickets and lie on the ground for camouflage.

The only confirmed natural predator of takin is the snow leopard, and opportunistic Asiatic black bears and gray wolves. Humans pose a greater threat to the takin, although poaching is thankfully not common.

Takin-x03dThe preserve is also home to some sambar and barking deer. It takes only about 30mins to walk the small reserve, but it’s also the only place where you can see the takin (unless you are prepared to hike up the mountains and pray to catch sight of one). Coming face to face with the takin was a surreal experience especially when you hear of its mythical origin, so I would recommend dropping by the reserve for a visit.

Motithang Takin Preserve
Opening Hours: 9:00AM to 4:00PM; Tue-Sun
Admission Fee: Bhutanese/SAARC national/adult Nu 10/30/50
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan

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Botswana – The Little Mousey who would be Shrew

Elephant ShrewMe: Oh, so this little mouse-like creature is called a Sandshrew?
My pal Kai: Err, it is actually called an Elephant Shrew. Sandshrew only exists in Pokemon Go.
Me: Oopsie! :p
Confessions of a Pokemon Go-holic” at Mamagua, Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana

The elephant shrew (also called sengis) are represented by a single family, the Macroscelididae, with all 19 living species found exclusively in Africa. The cute little mammal gets its name from the long, pointed head and very long and mobile trunk-like snout. While they look like mice, the elephant shrew is more closely related to a group of African great mammals that includes elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks.

Smaller elephant shrew species like this one are found in the uplands of Southern, Eastern, and Northwestern Africa in dry forests, scrub, savannas, and open country covered by sparse shrubs of grass, while the larger four species of giant elephant shrew prefer to live in forests, closed-canopy woodlands and thickets usually in a nest made of leaf litter. The elephant shrew eats invertebrates like ants, termites, beetles, spiders, millipedes, and worms.

Elephant shrews are monogamous (yay! proud of you) and mate for life. They give birth 4 to 5 times a year. Highly territorial, they stake an area spanning a few acres. When other shrews enroach its territory, the elephant shrew behaves true to its name – they will waste no time in screaming, kicking and sparring – like a human shrew – to drive the trepasser away.

The couple do not hang out together all the time though – they go about on their own looking for food, using sent-marking to let its mate know it is still around and not gallavanting elsewhere. This musky smell also serves as a deterrent against predators such as birds of prey and snakes, as well as help to point our food sources.

The elephant shrew has been listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with the loss of its habitat to urbanization being the biggest threat to their survival. Help conserve the elephant shrew.


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Botswana – Watching

Watching
An adult giraffe keeps an eye on a young one as it feeds on the leaves of an acacia tree. A giraffe’s extra-thick saliva gets its antiseptic properties from the acacia leaves that they eat. Its tongue also has a thick, tough layer that protects it from being cut by the super sharp thorns (from personal experience, ouch) of the acacia tree, while its antiseptic saliva thoroughly coats the thorns so they come out of the digestive system pretty intact. The saliva helps it to heal quickly too should it be cut by the thorns or anything else. So if you have a cut, you can try getting a giraffe to lick on your wound – if you can ever get close enough to one in the wild :)


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River Safari – Golden Pheasant

Golden Pheasant

Golden Pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus)
This must be one of the most under-rated exhibits at Singapore’s River Safari, being grossly over-shadowed by its 2 highly popular neighbours – the pandas and red pandas in the Giant Panda Forest.

Golden Pheasant

Hailing from the mountains of Central China, the name of this bird is derived from the male’s beautiful red and golden plumage. Also known as the Chinese pheasant, it generally feeds on the ground for grains, leaves and invertebrates, and prefers to run even though it can fly in short spurts.
Golden pheasants are one of the most popular of all pheasant species kept in captivity because of its beautiful plumage and hardy nature.

Despite the male’s showy appearance, these hardy birds are very difficult to see in their natural habitat, which is dense, dark young conifer forests with sparse undergrowth. They are susceptible to bleaching if they are exposed to sun for long amounts of time. The shadowed forests they live in protect their vibrant colors.

Golden Pheasant

Female Golden Pheasant
The hen is much duller in coloration than the male, brown with dark barring and a buff face and throat.

Golden Pheasant

Do admire its beauty the next time you are at River Safari :)