The takin rivals the muskox as the largest and stockiest of the subfamily Caprinae, which includes all goats, sheep and similar species. Short legs are supported on large, two-toed hooves, which have a highly developed spur. The body is stocky and the chest is deep. The large head is made more distinctive by the long, arched nose, and stout horns that are ridged at the base and can reach 64 cm (25 in) in length. Both sexes have small horns which run parallel to the skull and then turn upwards in a short point, these are around 30 cm (12 in) long. The long shaggy coat is light in color, with a dark stripe along the back, and males (bulls) also have a dark face. Four subspecies of takin are currently recognised, and these tend to show a variation in coat color. Their thick wool often turns black in color on the underside and legs. The overall coloration ranges from dark blackish to reddish-brown suffused with grayish-yellow in the eastern Himalayas to lighter yellow-gray in the Sichuan Province to mostly golden or (rarely) creamy-white with fewer black hairs in the Shaanxi Province. The legend of the 'golden fleece', searched for by Jason and the Argonauts, may have been inspired by the lustrous coat of the golden takin (B. t. bedfordi). The hairs of the species can range from 3 cm (1.2 in), on the flanks of the body in summer, up to 24 cm (9.4 in), on the underside of the head in winter.
Takin stand 97 to 140 cm (38 to 55 in) at the shoulder and measure a relatively short 160–220 cm (63–87 in) in head-and-body length. The tail adds only a further 12 to 21.6 cm (4.7 to 8.5 in). Weights reported are somewhat variable, but the species is quite heavy. According to most reports, the males are slightly larger, reportedly weighing 300–350 kg (660–770 lb) against 250–300 kg (550–660 lb) in females. However, per Betham (1908), females are larger, with the largest captive Takin known to the author, at 322 kg (710 lb), having been female. Other sources report the takin can weigh up to 400 kg (880 lb) or 600 kg (1,300 lb) in some cases.
Rather than localised scent glands, the takin has an oily, strong-smelling substance secreted over the whole body. This is likely the reason for the swollen appearance of the face. Due to this feature, biologist George Schaller likened the takin to a "bee-stung moose",. Their combination of features has also earned them the nicknames "cattle chamois" and "gnu goat".
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