Huge Yak Herd Found In Tibet After Near Extinction

Researchers have found a huge population of yaks on a remote reserve on the Tibetan Plateau. This may indicate a significant comeback for the wild yak.

Conservationists from the University of Montana and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) counted almost 1,000 wild yaks in a remote area north of the plateau called Hoh Xil.

Wild Yaks were nearly wiped out in the middle of the 20th century by hunters. They are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is just one step above “endangered.” At one time, huge numbers of wild yaks ranged all over Tibet, Nepal, India, and western China. Nowadays, the IUCN roughly estimates there only 10,000 yaks in the wild.

Hoh Xil is one area the animal is protected in. It is about the size of West Virgina and is sparsely populated by people. Hoh Xil lies in the mid-eastern Tibetan-Himalayan highlands, which houses 17,000 glaciers. It is sometimes called the “3rd pole” because of its arctic like conditions.

Yaks are the third largest mammals in Asia and are estimated to be the equivalent weight to the American Bison. The animals have never been officially weighed because the area they roam is very isolated.

“Wild yaks are icons for the remote, untamed, high-elevation roof of the world,” researcher Joel Berger, who led the yak-counting expedition, said, according to Live Science. “While polar bears represent a sad disclaimer for a warming Arctic, the recent count of almost 1,000 wild yaks offers hope for the persistence of free-roaming large animals at the virtual limits of high-altitude wildlife.”

The Wildlife Conservation Society said they found more wild yaks near glaciers. The glaciers feed alpine meadows, which provides food the the yaks. Very little is know about wild yak biology. Scientist aren’t sure how often yaks breed or how many of their young survive to become adults. They did find that less than one percent of the yaks varied in color from the rest of the population. This suggests to scientists they aren’t mixing or hybridizing with domestic yaks, which usually happens in areas of Tibet that more populated with humans.

According to redOrbit, Joe Walston WCS Executive Director of Asia Programs, said:

“For millennia, yaks have sustained human life in this part of Asia, it would be a cruel irony if their reward is extinction in the wild. Thankfully, we have a chance now to secure their future and give back a little of what they have provided us.”