What are Yaks

A huge, long-haired, long-horned bovid native to the Himalayas, the yak has long been important to the ecosystem and human culture of the area.

Yaks have been favored pack animals, friends, and suppliers of food and fabric for generations due to their durability and simple diets of grass.

And as more people explore for alternatives to conventional livestock like cows, their popularity as livestock is now growing around the world. So it’s worthwhile to understand more about the yak and its historical significance.

Yak Scientific Name

The yak is a member of the bovine family, which also includes cows and buffalo, both of which are thought to have sprung from the extinct aurochs type of cattle. One million to five million years ago, yaks diverged from aurochs.

Yaks found in the wild are known as Bos mutus, whereas those found in household settings are known as Bos grunniens. The Tibetan word “yag” is where the English term “yak” comes from. Both species’ scientific names allude to the creatures’ vocalizations or lack thereof. Bos mutus and Bos grunniens both refer to silent or grunting oxen.

They are members of the Bovidae family, which also includes American bison, African buffalo, and Asian water buffalo. The size of the two species is the main distinction, with wild males weighing up to twice as much as their domestic counterparts. Yaks in domestication are related to those in the wild.

Habits and Lifestyle

Daytime activity is common for domestic yaks. They are gregarious animals that dwell in herds of 10 to 20 other creatures. Typically, females and their young make up these herds. Males can live alone or in small herds of bachelors. Yaks cluster together with their calves in the middle during chilly evenings and during snowstorms.

Yaks have bigger lungs and hearts than cattle found at lower elevations, making them ideally suited for surviving in high altitudes. Yaks in domestication use grunts to communicate with one another. They do not make the distinctive lowing (mooing) sound made by cattle, which gave rise to the scientific name Bos grunniens (grunting bull).

Female Yaks Rule the Herd

A yak herd can contain anywhere from 10 and 100 yaks, although they often number in the low to mid-twenties. A dri or nak, a female yak, typically makes up practically the whole herd.

The majority of the men either wander alone or with a small group of bachelors until it’s time to find the ladies and give birth to those cute tiny calves, however a few guys may join them.

Yaks have established a solid reputation as extremely versatile and incredibly attractive cattle, playing an important role in Himalayan culture and commerce. Keep a look out for a nearby farm or that oh-so-luxurious sweater if you are unable to go to Central Asia to witness them in action.

What is a Yak’s habitat?

Yaks live on highlands, such as on mountains in the plateau areas. Due of the abundant body hair covering their bodies, they can withstand temperatures below zero. These creatures assist those who reside between 5000 and 4,000 feet above sea level.

Wild yak live in treeless altitudes where hills, plateaus, and mountains predominate. They cannot, however, endure for very long in the arid steppes of other nations. Yaks are widespread in Asia’s alpine tundra, which is characterized by dense grass carpets and sedges growing along mountain sides.

Domestic yaks with long hair may be seen in northern India, close to the Himalayan border. Additionally, they live in Siberia, Mongolia, Yunan, Northern Myanmar, Sichuan, and the Tibetan plateau. A yak lives happily by grazing on plain plains and mountain vegetation.

It should be emphasized that yaks have historically lived at the greatest altitudes of any animal.

Yaks Can Handle Temperatures as Low as Minus 40 Degrees

The hair is not just for show. Yaks developed a thick fleece of coarse outer hair and an undercoat of fine down to survive the icy winters on the Tibetan Plateau.

Yaks also put on weight to preparation for the cold, and their thick skin helps them keep their body heat in. Yaks can endure temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The FAO says that one reason yaks do poorly in hot conditions is that their sweat ducts are typically not functioning.

Yak Family

Yaks are all members of the Bovidae family. There are many different species in this enormously diverse ungulate family, which includes sheep, goats, cows, antelopes, and gazelles. According to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web, there are 137 species in the family Bovidae.

Geographically, although they are also widespread in North America, Asia, and Europe, bovids are most frequent in Africa. Some bovids have been introduced to other continents and now live in South America and Australia.

Yak Butter Is Huge in Tibet

These scaly cows are a bit of a jack of all crafts when it comes to producing valuable food and merchandise.

They produce a special cheese from their incredibly nutritious milk that, once dried, may be kept for years. But in the sparsely populated area, the thick, fatty yak butter is probably the most sought-after food.

Po cha, also known as Tibetan butter tea, is made by combining it with salt and black tea. The traditional beverage requires some getting used to, but it offers a ton of essential calories. The Dali Lama drinks it every day since it is such a significant component of the culture.

The inhabitants make sure that none of the butter is wasted by using it to power lights, polish fur coats, and serve as a foundation for traditional butter sculpture.

Yak meat has long been a valuable source of nutrition and is steadily gaining appeal in different parts of the world. It is a better alternative to red meat for both humans and the environment since it is low in cholesterol and high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Yaks only eat a third of the amount of food that cows do because they are far more effective at absorbing nutrients.

Size Diversity in the Family Bovidae

Bovids are a diverse group of animals, yet there is no consistency among them in terms of size.

For instance, whereas the royal antelope (Neotragus pygmaeus) frequently weighs only a few pounds, other buffalo and antelopes can weigh more than a ton. A large number of male yaks may weigh about 2,000 pounds. The enormous family Bovidae contains a wide range of sizes.

Their Fur May Just Become the Next Cashmere

Yak fiber is a new player in the world of high fashion. The outer covering is used to create everything from strong tents to ornate saddles the yaks themselves wear on journeys. It is also used to weave carpets. The very soft undercoat, however, is the most prized gift.

A warm, oh-so-soft fabric that matches cashmere’s opulence is obtained from the fiber shed by yaks in the spring when they shed this ultrafine layer.

Wild Yaks Were Domesticated Around 5,000 Years Ago

The domestication of the yak is credited to the Qiang people, who resided close to Qinghai Lake and along the Tibetan Plateau’s borders.

Between 221 B.C. and 220 A.D., the Qiang were said to have possessed a “Yak state,” according to Han dynasty records. This “state” was actually a trading system existing before the Silk Road. This domestication timeline is supported by genetic research.

Yaks that have been tamed are immensely beneficial to humans. It functions as a pack animal and may provide beef that is leaner than cow beef, clothes, and fabric for ropes and shelters.

They Have Large Lungs and Hearts

Yaks are the top-ranking animal that can live at great altitudes, having evolved to thrive at elevations of up to 20,000 feet (6,100 meters). A yak has 14 to 15 pairs of ribs instead of 13 like a cow because of its abnormally enormous lungs, which require an additional pair of ribs merely to sustain them.

They can extract adequate oxygen from the thin, alpine air because they have larger lungs and more red blood cells.

Who do Yaks live with?

Yaks live in herds or groups both in the wild and in domestic settings, just like cows do. Yaks in the wild coexist in mixed herds with females and their young.

There are also occasionally bachelor herds in the wild, which are made up entirely of males or bulls. However, some male wild yaks choose to live by themselves, independent of any herd. Additionally, it is possible that on sometimes various herds will band together to create bigger groupings. A single herd typically has 20–25 males, females, and calves.

Yak Predators and Threats

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has formally categorized the world’s yak population as vulnerable to extinction despite the fact that domestic yaks are abundant.

Wild yaks were heavily hunted by Tibetan and Mongolian herders and military men in the early 1900s. Only 10,000 wild yaks survive now, down from as many as a million just fifty years ago, when they roamed the Tibetan plateau owing to interbreeding with cows, habitat degradation, and human-caused hunting.

Males who live alone are more at risk from poaching. Domestic cattle disturbances result in disease transmission and interbreeding.

Although in some regions snow leopards and brown bears have been reported to feed upon young or weak yaks, the Himalayan wolf is the yak’s natural predator.

How long does a Yak live?

Yaks raised domestically and those raised in the wild may have different life expectancies. A yak is well-fed and shielded from the elements while it is kept in captivity.

Yaks kept as pets can live for 20 to 25 years in good health. However, no one is present to safeguard these creatures in the wild. They thus live less time than tamed yaks. A wild yak has a life expectancy of 20 years or fewer on average.

Yak Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Although females can go into estrus up to four times a year, mating usually takes place in the late summer or, depending on the local conditions, even into September. Between 257 and 270 days pass during gestation, and in May or June, a single calf is born. Twin births are uncommon.

Females choose a remote area for delivery, but they immediately reunite with the herd because calves can usually walk within 10 minutes of birth.

The majority of females only give birth every other year, yet if food is abundant, births may be more frequent. They start having children at the age of three to four, and reach their peak fertility around the age of six.

At one year old, calves are weaned, and soon after that, they become independent. These creatures live for 20 to 25 years on average, while some wild yaks may live for less time.

Yak Ranching Is on the Rise in North America

Although yaks are originally from the Himalayas, they are now found worldwide. According to Kansas State Research and Extension, there were only around 600 yaks in North America 30 years ago. Today, the continent is home to at least 5,000 officially recognized yaks, and perhaps many more.

According to some proponents of yak ranching, yaks consume only approximately a third of the amount of food that cows do, and despite their size, they are noted for creating less environmental harm when they browse. These enormous creatures do less harm from trampling because of their relatively tiny, agile hooves.

Additionally, they have a reputation for being peaceful and docile, missing the occasionally unruly behavior of bison, and can be more independent than cattle. They are also comparatively disease-resistant.

Yak Population

In Asia, there are between 14 million and 15 million domestic yaks. The number of yaks being farmed in the United States is presently over 5,000, and yak ranching is expanding across North America. They have historically been employed for threshing and plowing as well as pack animals for caravans.

On the Tibetan tundra’s lack of trees, the only fuel accessible is yak dung. Wild yaks may still be found from Lake Baikal in Siberia to the Ladakh region in India as late as the mid-1800s. There are just around 170 wild Chinese Golden Yaks surviving, an endangered subspecies of the yak.

Wild yaks are now protected by law in both India and China, with the latter even setting up specific areas where many herds of the wild population may be found.

What is their conservation status?

Yaks have been tamed and are found all over the world. These creatures are not just found in Tibet, China, or northern India; they may be found all around Asia. Yaks that are domesticated are not now in danger of going extinct.

The IUCN Red List, however, rates the species of wild yak, which are the progenitors of these tamed ones, as vulnerable.

There are just a few number of them surviving, mostly on the desolate Tibetan plateau. The primary factors contributing to the swift yak population decline in the wild are poaching, herd interbreeding, and climate change. Both China and areas of north India have protected animal status for this species.

Yaks In the Zoo

The majority of zoos only have space for one kind of wild cattle, therefore they opt for buffalo, bison, or yak. One exception is the Wildlife Park at the San Diego Zoo, where guests may observe both of these species as well as others.

Although most zoos do not, the San Diego Zoo maintains a rigorous, committed breeding program for endangered animals.