Biology of the Yak

Yak is a vulnerable, rare and very mysterious animal. It is a herd animal usually found in herds of 10 to 1000 yaks. Yak is a Bovid. Bovid refers to animals that fall under the biological category of animals called Bovidae. Bovidaes are ruminants which include Water buffalo, African buffalo, Bison, domestic cattle, sheeps and goats.

Yaks live in the Himalayan regions of the South East Asian Countries. Called as Bos Grunniens, Yaks inhabit the Qinghai Plateau and the surrounding moorlands of Tibet. People live in these regions, Nomadic Pastoralists and Tibetans, rely on Yaks as the important source of milk, meat and even dung of Yak. Bos Grunniens are domesticated yaks, and have been used as major source of supplying the essentials for more than 1000 years. Beyond milk, skin and meat, the dung aka excretion of yaks are used as a major source of fuel. In fact, it is the only source of fuel available in the Tibetan plateau, in the regions that has no trees.

The male wild yak weight about 1000 kg and can grow up to 2 meters in height. Female yak weighs and have the height about one-third of the male yaks. Domesticated yaks contain less fur, weigh less and appear smaller to wild yaks.

Yaks reach the age of maturity generally between 4 to 8 years. The gestation period of a yak is estimated at 260 days. The common mating period of yaks fall during September of every year and they give birth to baby yaks during April to June. Both wild yaks and domestic yaks give birth to one calf a year, in every alternate year. In many cases, due to poor feeding domestic yaks give birth to one calf every three or four years. The average life span of a yak is 20 to 23 years.

The yaks generally feed themselves in morning and evening. Since they live in high altitude areas (from 3500 feet) above the sea level, they travel long distances to nourish themselves. Yaks are sensitive to heat, but they can tolerate the even the extreme cold weather. Yaks constantly move in search of food, and stays in the high altitude regions that has permanent snow during the month of August and September. It is the mating period of yaks.

The wild yaks were found widespread throughout Tibetan Plateau and other regions namely India, Bhutan, Nepal and China. However, due to excessive hunting for meat and fur, the population of the Yaks was reduced. By the beginning of 70s, Yaks are found only in the remote areas of the hilly terrains and in a few remote areas of North East India. The breeding and distribution of the wild yaks are hampered due to hunting and human disturbance.

Yaks are herbivores and base their diet largely on grasses as well as sedges. Besides, they also rely on some herbs like winterfat shrubs, mosses, stipa and Kobresia.

International Union for the Conversation of Nature declared the wild Yaks as VULNERABLE animals. Although yaks are plant eaters, they are dangerous.

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