Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate enough to make several trips to Tibet and ethnically Tibetan regions of Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu. Besides the clichés of deep blue skies, Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan people, one thing that unites this enormous region is that it’s home to the mighty yak.
Without the yak the Tibetan Plateau could never have been populated – its dung provides fuel on a largely treeless plain, its pelt provides leather and wool for clothes and tents, and its milk, butter and meat provide life-sustaining calories in the harsh environment of the highlands. Yaks can be ridden, raced and can pull a plough although they are also naughty in nature, and are often crossbred with domestic cattle to create a more obedient helper.
Yaks are both useful and beautiful, and the little ones are rather sweet. I’m not sure I can guarantee any of those three qualities will be found in my blog, but I’m aiming at least for the first two, and if you find it sweet, well then all the better…
Assorted Yak Facts
- Technically, only purebred, domesticated male yaks are actually yaks. In Tibetan, domesticated females are called dri, crossbreeds are called dzo or dzomo and the wild purebreds are called drong. You’ll be happy to hear that for the purposes of this blog, I’ll just be using the word ‘yak’ for all of the above.
- Nomads’ herds of yaks may be a hundred-strong or more. Herders are often able to recognise individual animals from enormous distances (nothing like looking out at the Tibetan horizon to refine your distance vision, I suppose)
- Wild yaks are now sadly rare, with an estimated population of 10-15,000. The recent decline in their population is due an increased demand for yak meat. Happily a few large herds still exist out these as this recent report shows. Hurrah!