I woke early before the sun rose over the Thimphu valley to hike to an area, home to the mythical creature known as the Takin or ‘Dong Gyem Tsey’. While fishing on the Haa Chhu river last weekend, I was told a legend about the origins of this mythical creature.

Back in the 15th century, a now famous Tibetan lama named Drukpa Kunley, or more commonly known to the Bhutanese as “The Divine Madman” has been credited with the creatures creation. Drukpa was a devoted religious man, a monk and a poet. One day he had been teaching local villagers one of his lectures when they requested he demonstrate his spiritual power through a miraculous event.

So the Lama agreed to conjure up a single miracle if, and only if he would be served a whole cow and a whole goat for lunch. The villagers prepared the food and served him. The “Divine Madman” quickly devoured the meal, separating the bones of the distinctive animals into two piles. He then recklessly took the head of the goat and placed it onto the skeleton of the cow, snapped his finger and the Takin, a half goat and half cow creature, arose. The animal as surprised as the villagers took off running with its short muscular legs and thick neck to the north eastern part of the country. Villagers I spoke with said, like pandas, the Takin feeds only on bamboo and that the horn of the Takin is traditionally used as medicine for treating women during difficult childbirth.

Today, the Takin is a threatened species and the National Animal of Bhutan. Law bans their hunting. There are more than 1000 remaining the Jigme Dorji National Park. Takin live in the high mountains between 1,000 to 4,500 metres (3,300 to 15,000 ft), where they are diurnal, active only in the day, resting in the heat on particularly sunny days. Takin gather in small herds in winter and up to a hundred individuals in the summer. During winter, they move to lower elevations and split into smaller groups of 10-50 individuals, mostly in the Gasa District.

Takins mate in the summer and their gestation period lasts for 7 to 8 months. Usually, a single calf is born between December to February. The young ones are black while adults have golden yellow and brownish coat. Takins descend to the lower valleys around autumn season, in stages and grazing all the way. By late October, the temperate broadleaf forests between 2000 m and 3000 m turn into their winter grazing grounds. They range today into north eastern India, western part of China, and Tibet. The main threats are poaching and habitat loss.