Yaks are large animals
related to cattle and can reach up to two metres in height.
As long ago as 3000 years ago, they were first
tamed by man. Domestic yaks tend to be smaller and quieter than wild
ones. They do not need special care and are able to survive on scanty
mountain vegetation. As well as being husbanded for their hair, milk
and meat, they are used as pack animals.
The wild yak can weigh up to 1000 kg but domestic
ones are usually only half that weight. They can grow to 1.8 m tall,
have long, coarse, black hair and a hairy tail (which was used by the
ancient Chinese as a symbol of authority) and grow horns which can
reach half a metre in length.
Their natural habitat is in treeless uplands,
including plains, hills, and mountains, from as low as 3200 m up to the
limit of vegetation at about 5400 m. They stay in high areas with
permanent snow during the warmer months of August and September, and
spend the rest of the year at lower elevations.
The wild yak grazes on grasses, herbs and lichens.
They graze on the alpine grasslands in the summer and during winter on
the shrubs in deep snow quenching their thirst with snow and ice. They
lose weight during the winter but recover and gain weight rapidly with
the coming of spring grass.
Ordinarily yaks gather in groups of ten to thirty
or more, but they may occasionally be observed in large groups of one
to two hundred. Herds in the wild are not stable units: they readily
split, or two or more may join together.
are sturdy and well adapted to coping with extreme climatic conditions.
Their thick fur forms the characteristic 'skirts', under which a mother
will hide her calves from cold weather. During the winter season they
even bathe in ponds which have not frozen over.
In domestic yaks, females first calve at about 3-4
years old. Full size is reached at about 6-8 years old. Most births
occur sometime between April and June. Domestic yaks give birth to
single calves in alternate years, but in areas of poor grazing, a few
may give birth only once every three years. The young become
independent after about 1 year. They can live to about 25 years of age.
The numbers of yaks in Kyrgyzstan reached a peak
of about 67,000 in the late 1970s, but have fallen to just 16,500 in
Today yak meat is highly sought after as a