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| Earth on Jan 17, 2013

Yaks are back

Conservationists find nearly 1,000 wild yaks in remote Tibetan Plateau

Yaks might be making a comeback.

A team of conservationists recently counted nearly 1,000 wild yaks 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.

Joel Berger/WCS/University of Montana

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.

Photo credit: jrubinic

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 17,500 feet.

Photo credit: Nivedita Ravishankar

No one knows how many yak there are living 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.

Bottom line: A team of conservationists recently counted nearly 1,000 wild yaks in 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.

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