The yak in Ladakh

  • 14/09/1997

Found in Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh, the yak is the most important species for highlanders in these areas. In Ladakh, it faces one of the harshest environments. It feeds on grass with leaf blades barely an inch long at high altitudes in the summer, descending to lower ranges in the winter. An excellent pack animal for snow-bound areas - its cup-shaped hooves create a vacuum, allowing it to walk easily on ice - the yak can cover 25-30 km per day, carrying loads up to 125-150 kg.

Yak herders collect the animals from their owners in different villages, and take them to the grazing grounds, where they live with their families and make butter from yak milk. The earnings from sale of butter are shared with the yak owners. "Yak rearing is still considered a noble profession by the Buddhist herders of Ladakh," says S C Gupta, senior scientist at the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, Karnal, Haryana. "The herders do not kill yak. They have utmost respect for the animal and love them," says Gupta, who is an authority on yaks.

However, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research was shocked to find that there had been a sharp decline in yak population in India in recent years. Even the Food and Agriculture Organization was alarmed. The figure stood at 130,000 in 1982, while it is currently estimated to be 30,000. But it was a false alarm. Gupta points out that the population of the yak has never crossed 50,000. The figure of 130,000 was inflated due to inadvertent clubbing of yak and mithun populations in Arunachal Pradesh.

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