Wild yak

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Wild yak
Temporal range: 5–0 Ma
Early Pliocene – Recent
Wild oxen, sheep and goats of all lands, living and extinct (Plate IV) BHL9370000.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Bovinae
Genus: Bos
Species: B. mutus
Binomial name
Bos mutus
Przewalski, 1883
Bos mutus map.png
Distribution of Wild yak

The wild yak (Bos mutus) is a large wild bovid native to the Himalayas in Central Asia. It is the ancestor of the domestic yak (Bos grunniens).

Taxonomy[edit]

The ancestor of the wild and domestic yak is thought to have diverged from Bos primigenius at a point between one and five million years ago.[2] The wild yak is now normally treated as a separate species from the domestic yak (Bos grunniens).[3]

Description[edit]

Wild yaks are among the largest bovids and are second only to the gaur in shoulder height. They are also the largest native animal in their range. Wild yak adults stand about 1.6 to 2.2 m (5.2 to 7.2 ft) tall at the shoulder and weigh 305–1,000 kg (672–2,205 lb). The head and body length is 2.5 to 3.3 m (8.2 to 11 ft), not counting the tail of 60 to 100 cm (24 to 39 in). The females are about one-third the weight and are about 30% smaller in their linear dimensions when compared to bull wild yaks. Domesticated yaks are somewhat smaller.[4][5][6][7]

They are heavily built animals with a bulky frame, sturdy legs, and rounded cloven hooves. The udder in females and the scrotum in males are small and hairy, as protection against the cold. Females have four teats. The fur is extremely dense, long and hangs down lower than the belly. Wild yaks are generally dark, blackish to brown, in colouration. Both sexes have long shaggy hair with a dense woolly undercoat over the chest, flanks, and thighs to insulate them from the cold. Especially in males, this may form a long "skirt" that can reach the ground. The tail is long and horselike rather than tufted like the tails of cattle or bison. The coat is typically black or dark brown over most of the body, with a greyish muzzle, although some wild golden-brown individuals have been reported. Wild yaks with gold coloured hair, known as the Wild Golden Yak (Chinese: ; pinyin: Jīnsīyěmáoniú) is considered an endangered subspecies by China, with an estimated population of 170 left in the wild.[8]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Wild yaks are found primarily in northern Tibet and western Qinghai, with some populations extending into the southernmost parts of Xinjiang, and into Ladakh in India. Small, isolated populations of wild yak are also found farther afield, primarily in western Tibet and eastern Qinghai. In historic times, wild yaks were also found in Nepal and Bhutan, but they are now considered extinct in both countries.[1]

The primary habitat of wild yaks consists of treeless uplands between 3,000 and 5,500 m (9,800 and 18,000 ft), dominated by mountains and plateaus. They are most commonly found in alpine tundra with a relatively thick carpet of grasses and sedges rather than the more barren steppe country.[9]

Ecology[edit]

The diet of wild yaks consists largely of grasses and sedges, such as Carex, Stipa, and Kobresia. They also eat a smaller amount of herbs, winterfat shrubs, and mosses, and have even been reported to eat lichen. Historically, the main natural predator of the wild yak has been the Tibetan wolf, but brown bears and snow leopards have also been reported as predators in some areas, likely of young or infirm wild yaks.[8]

Thubten Jigme Norbu, the elder brother of the 14th Dalai Lama, reported on his journey from Kumbum in Amdo to Lhasa in 1950:

Before long I was to see the vast herds of drongs with my own eyes. The sight of those beautiful and powerful beasts who from time immemorial have made their home on Tibet's high and barren plateaux never ceased to fascinate me. Somehow these shy creatures manage to sustain themselves on the stunted grass roots which is all that nature provides in those parts. And what a wonderful sight it is to see a great herd of them plunging head down in a wild gallop across the steppes. The earth shakes under their heels and a vast cloud of dust marks their passage. At nights they will protect themselves from the cold by huddling up together, with the calves in the centre. They will stand like this in a snow-storm, pressed so close together that the condensation from their breath rises into the air like a column of steam. The nomads have occasionally tried to bring up young drongs as domestic animals, but they have never entirely succeeded. Somehow once they live together with human beings they seem to lose their astonishing strength and powers of endurance; and they are no use at all as pack animals, because their backs immediately get sore. Their immemorial relationship with humans has therefore remained that of game and hunter, for their flesh is very tasty.

— Thubten Norbu, Tibet is My Country[10]

Behaviour[edit]

Wild yaks are herd animals. Herds can contain several hundred individuals, although many are much smaller. Herds consist primarily of females and their young, with a smaller number of adult males. The remaining males are either solitary, or found in much smaller groups, averaging around six individuals. Groups move into lower altitude ranges during the winter.[1] Although wild yaks can become aggressive when defending young, or during the rut, they generally avoid humans, and may rapidly flee for great distances if any approach.[8]

Reproduction[edit]

Wild yaks mate in summer and give birth to a single calf the following spring.[11] Females typically only give birth every other year.[8]

Conservation[edit]

The wild yak is currently classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN. It was previously classified as Endangered, but was downlisted in 1996 based on the estimated rate of population decline and current population sizes. The latest assessment in 2008 suggested a total population of no more than 10,000 mature individuals.[1]

The wild yak is under pressure from several sources. Poaching, including commercial poaching, has remained the most serious threat; males are particularly impacted because of their more solitary habits. Disturbance by and interbreeding with livestock herds is also common. This may include the transmission of cattle diseases, although no direct evidence of this has yet been found. Conflicts with herders themselves, as in preventative and retaliatory killings for abduction of domestic yaks by wild herds, also occur but appear to be relatively rare. Recent protection from poaching particular appears to have stabilized or even increased population sizes in several areas, leading to the IUCN downlisting in 2008. In both China and India, the species is officially protected; in China it is present in a number of large nature reserves.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Buzzard, P. & Berger, J. (2016). "Bos mutus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2016: e.T2892A101293528. Retrieved 3 December 2016. 
  2. ^ Guo, S.; et al. (2006). "Taxonomic placement and origin of yaks: implications from analyses of mtDNA D-loop fragment sequences". Acta Theriologica Sinica. 26 (4): 325–330. 
  3. ^ International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (2003). "Opinion 2027. Usage of 17 specific names based on wild species which are predated by or contemporary with those based on domestic animals (Lepidoptera, Osteichthyes, Mammalia): conserved". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. 60: 81–84. 
  4. ^ Nowak, R. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th Edition, Volume II. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (quoted in Oliphant, M. 2003. "Bos grunniens" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed 4 April 2009)
  5. ^ Boitani, Luigi (1984). Simon & Schuster's Guide to Mammals. Simon & Schuster/Touchstone Books, ISBN 978-0-671-42805-1
  6. ^ Bos grunniens (Linnaeus). zsienvis.nic.in at the Wayback Machine (archived 16 April 2009)
  7. ^ Wild yak photo – Bos mutus – G13952. ARKive. Retrieved on 2012-12-19.
  8. ^ a b c d Leslie, D.M.; Schaller, G.B. (2009). "Bos grunniens and Bos mutus (Artiodactyla: Bovidae)". Mammalian Species. 836: 1–17. doi:10.1644/836.1. 
  9. ^ Schaller, G.B.; Liu, Wilin (1996). "Distribution, status, and conservation of wild yak Bos grunniens". Biological Conservation. 76 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1016/0006-3207(96)85972-6. 
  10. ^ Tibet is My Country: Autobiography of Thubten Jigme Norbu, Brother of the Dalai Lama as told to Heinrich Harrer, p. 151. First published in German in 1960. English translation by Edward Fitzgerald, published 1960. Reprint, with updated new chapter, (1986). Wisdom Publications, London. ISBN 0-86171-045-2.
  11. ^ Wiener, Gerald; Jianlin, Han; Ruijun, Long (2003). "4 The Yak in Relation to Its Environment", The Yak, Second Edition. Bangkok: Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, ISBN 92-5-104965-3. Accessed 8 August 2008.

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