Located in Bhutan’s capital of Thimphu, the Motithang Takin Preserve is a special reserve created for the preservation of takins, the country’s national animal. Takin, also known as gnu goat and cattle chamois, are a type of goat/antelope that populate the Eastern Himalayas. Despite their appearance, genetically they are closely related to sheep and of the four subspecies of takin one variety, the Bhutan Takin, is found exclusively in Bhutan. The takin preserve originally started off as a miniature zoo. Eventually the zoo was shut down and the animals set free upon the orders of the monarch. However, most of the animals had already become domesticated and did not leave the area. So a park was constructed on the outskirts of Thimphu to accommodate the tame takins.

The takins were declared the national animal in November 2005 due to a popular local myth. The story revolves around Drukpa Kunley, the Tibetan saint popularly called the ‘Divine Madman’. It is said that when the saint visited Bhutan he was asked by the locals to perform a miracle. Kunley said he would oblige if he was fed an entire cow and goat for lunch. After finishing his meal, he removed the cow’s skull and replaced it with the goat’s before chanting a few words to bring the hybrid creature to life. Thus the takins were formed.

The enclosed reserve spans an area of over three hectares and is jointly maintained by the Bhutanese government and the World Wildlife Fund. The Motithang Takin Preserve is one of Thimphu’s main tourist attractions and is considered a ‘must visit’. Although the reserve currently contains only takins authorities hope to introduce other endangered animals such as the Himalayan Serow and the Red Panda. The easiest way to get to the wildlife preserve is by taxi. The best time to visit is in the morning as that is when dozens of takins congregate close to the fence to eat, presenting a terrific opportunity to take photographs as well.

Travellers who long for a taste of Asia should consider visiting Bhutan. Exotic and enchanting, the country is sure to make for a memorable vacation. Accommodation is easy to come by and one can find a Bhutan hotel to suit any budget. Those looking for a luxury hotel can try the Uma Bhutan. The Paro hotel is situated in a gorgeous valley and is a terrific place to stay.