Yak

The yak is a herd animal found in the mountainous regions of central Asia. The yak tend to gather in herds from 10 yaks to 100 yaks, most of which are female. There are only a few male yaks per herd.

Although there is a large domestic population of yak, there are only a few wild yak remaining . The yak is still used in many parts of central Asia, for pulling heavy farm machines and transporting large loads through the mountain passes.

The average male yak can grow to about 2meters tall, with the female yak being about 1/3 the size of the male yak. All yak have very long hair to keep them warm.

The yak belongs to the same cow family as the Asian water buffalo, the African buffalo and the American bison. However, the yak is slightly more like the American bison in appearance as both the yak and the bison have long hair in order to withstand the colder climates, the bison of the North American winters and the yak of the mid-Asian mountains.

The yak breeds in the warmer months of September and after a gestation period of nine months the female yak gives birth to a single yak calf. A female yak will occasionally give birth to twins but it is very rare. Some female yak give birth to a calf almost every year but it depends on the environment in which the yak lives and the yak individual. Yak babies are completely independent by the time that they are a year old and they are fully grown when they are between 7 and 8 years old. The average lifespan of a yak is about 20 years in the wild and slightly longer when in captivity.

Like other species of cow, the yak is a herbivore and spends a great deal of time on grassy plains in the mountains grazing on grasses, herbs and wild flowers. In a similar way to other cow species the yak has more than one stomach which the yak uses to successfully get all of the nutrients out of the plants that it eats.

The yak has firm, dense horns which the yak uses to break through snow in order to get the plants that are buried beneath it and the yak will also use it’s horns in defence. They have long shaggy hairthat covers their bodies that keep them warm and dry.

Yak is probably a vanishing species, though it occurs in regions so remote and politically inaccessible that no reliable surveys have been carried out in recent times. In the subcontinent, they only survive in small numbers in the Changchenmo valley in northern Ladakh but their total range extends across Tibet into Kansu province of China. The wild Yak (Bos grunniens) is blackish brown all over, with perhaps a little white around the muzzle. An adult bull stands one hundred and seventy centimetres at the shoulder and many weigh up to five hundred and forty five kilograms. As in all the wild oxen, both sexes bear horns and those of the bull yak are smooth cylinders sweeping up like handlebars and measuring up to seventy five centimetres in length. Their appearance is made more massive by the fact that their chest, shoulders and flanks are fringed by long hair hanging almost to the ground. Their tails are likewise covered in a thick and busty tuft and this appendage is often used as a fly-whisk and badge of state by high dignitaries in the lamaseries.

Yaks have been domesticated since time immemorial and are widely used as pack animals in the northernmost reaches, from Chitral in the west through Ladakh, to Nepal and Sikkim in the east. There are solely hybrid forms with domestic cattle locally called zho. Domestic yak are almost indistinguishable from wild yak except that they frequently are picbald and even dun-coloured, with less massive horns, whilst the zho are considerably smaller.

Amongst all the bovines this animal is perhaps best adapted not only to extreme cold but also to desert conditions. Yak can subsist on the scattered clumps of Astragalus and other thorny cushion plants and eat snow when water is unavailable. Unlike the domesticated oxen and buffaloes of the plains their faeces are voided in small rounded pellets with a very high dry content, resembling closely those of a camel.

The voice of Yak is a deep grunt from which its scientific name is derived. Domesticated yaks are normally found at altitudes from four thousand two hundred and seventy up to six thousand one hundred metres and wild yak have seldom been observed below five thousand metres. They are gregarious, living in small herds, and in the wild are shy and wary beasts relying on an acutely developed sense of smell rather than keen eyesight to detect danger. The rutting season is late autumn, with calves being produced in the month of April after a nine month gestation period. Domesticated yak have a habit of grinding their teeth audibly, a trait probably connected with the fact that they generally infested with intestinal tapeworms.