AboutZoos, Since 2008


Yaks are back

pub­lished 20 Jan­u­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 20 Jan­u­ary 2013

Wild YaksThe Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) and Uni­ver­sity of Mon­tana find nearly 1,000 wild yaks in remote Tibetan plateau. Once dec­i­mated by hunt­ing, wild yaks — Asia’s third largest land mam­mal — may be return­ing.

A team of Amer­i­can and Chi­nese con­ser­va­tion­ists from WCS and Uni­ver­sity of Mon­tana recently counted nearly 1,000 wild yaks (Bos mutus) from a remote area of the Tibetan-​Qinghai Plateau. The find­ing may indi­cate a come­back for this species, which was dec­i­mated by over­hunt­ing in the mid 20th cen­tury.

The team counted 990 yaks in a rugged area called Hoh Xil — a national nature reserve nearly the size of West Vir­ginia but devoid of peo­ple. The remote region lies in the mid-​eastern Tibetan-​Himalayan high­lands, home to some 17,000 glac­i­ers — an area some­times called the “3rd pole” due to its Arctic-​like con­di­tions.

Wild yaks are the third largest mam­mal in Asia, sec­ond only to ele­phants and rhi­nos. Adults are esti­mated to be the size of bison, but — because the area where they occur is so iso­lated — wild yaks have never been offi­cially weighed. Fifty years ago, the Tibetan steppe was dot­ted with wild yak much in the way that bison once stretched across vast North Amer­i­can prairies. Like bison, wild yaks were slaugh­tered. Yak skulls still lit­ter high ele­va­tion haunts up to 5,300 meter (17,500 feet).

Tibet mapWild yak pop­u­la­tion esti­mates across the Tibetan-​Qinghai Plateau are unknown, though con­ser­va­tion­ists believe they may be mak­ing a come­back due to con­ser­va­tion efforts by Chi­nese park offi­cials and provin­cial gov­ern­ments. Recently, the Qing­hai provin­cial gov­ern­ment has launched sev­eral con­ser­va­tion related poli­cies and regional projects in order to develop a sound basis for wildlife and envi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion in this region.

Wild yaks are icons for the remote, untamed, high-​elevation roof of the world. While polar bears rep­re­sent a sad dis­claimer for a warm­ing Arc­tic, the recent count of almost 1000 wild yaks offers hope for the per­sis­tence of free-​roaming large ani­mals at the vir­tual lim­its of high-​altitude wildlife.
Joel Berger, expe­di­tion leader for WCS and the Uni­ver­sity of Mon­tana »

Berger and his col­leagues found greater yak den­si­ties near glac­i­ers, which often sup­port adja­cent food-​rich alpine meadow habi­tats. Less than one per­cent of the yaks observed showed colour vari­a­tion, a good indi­ca­tion that hybridi­s­a­tion with their more colour­ful domes­tic yak cousins is less fre­quent here than in more peo­pled regions on the Tibetan Plateau.

ARKive video - Wild yak - overview

Very lit­tle is known about wild yak biol­ogy, includ­ing how often they repro­duce, infant mor­tal­ity rates, and the role wolves may play on pop­u­la­tion dynamics.

The team’s next steps will be to process data to under­stand more about cli­mate change impacts on this high ele­va­tion ecosys­tem, and to unravel more about human-​wildlife con­flict in this frag­ile and little-​known part of the world. 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.“

The expe­di­tion was spon­sored by the National Geo­graphic Soci­ety, WCS, and the Uni­ver­sity of Mon­tana. Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve and Qing­hai Provin­cial Forestry Bureau of China pro­vided invalu­able sup­port to make it happen.

The Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety saves wildlife and wild places world­wide. We do so through sci­ence, global con­ser­va­tion, edu­ca­tion and the man­age­ment of the world’s largest sys­tem of urban wildlife parks, led by the flag­ship Bronx Zoo. Together these activ­i­ties change atti­tudes towards nature and help peo­ple imag­ine wildlife and humans liv­ing in har­mony. WCS is com­mit­ted to this mis­sion because it is essen­tial to the integrity of life on Earth.
(Source: WCS press release, 18.01.2013)
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Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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