10 cool things about the yak

You might remember Yax, the male yak character in the movie Zootopia. Let’s find out what the 10 cool things are of the yak.

  1. Rasta looks

You’d be forgiven for thinking the yak looks like a Rastafarian, with his long coat. Some yaks have long fringes that grow over their eyes and faces. Sometimes, a yak only has the fringe hanging down from his sides, down his legs and almost to the ground. He has a dense undercoat, which adds to his Rasta looks.

2. Dressed for the occasion

The yak is able to live in very cold conditions, and that is why he has such a long coat. He is very valuable to the people of Tibet and, during the Yak Festival of Tibet and the Shoton Festival, the yak is decorated with colourful clothes and colourful beads or flags tied around his horns.

3. Huge horns

Yaks have huge horns, especially the males. A male’s horns can be up to 99cm long, while the female yak’s horns can reach 64cm. The yak uses these dense horns to dig through the snow to get to the vegetation to feed on. He also uses his horns to defend himself. Being a naturally calm animal, the yak isn’t aggressive and won’t go out of his way to pick a fight, except during mating season.

4. Domesticated vs wild

These days, there are two species of yak – the domesticated yak and the wild yak. It is possible that the yak was domesticated about 10,000 years ago by the Qiang herdsmen. The wild yak is much larger than the domesticated one – being almost double his size. The wild yak weighs up to 1,200kg while the domesticated male yak only weighs around 580kg.

5. High mammals

He is totally built for high altitudes and sub-zero conditions. The yak is the biggest mammal who can dwell 5,500m up in the Himalayas, in temperatures as low as -40°C. He has huge lungs that are three times larger than the lungs of cattle.

To quench his thirst in winter, he eats snow, and that provides him with enough water. When it is very cold at night, the herd members up huddle next to each other to keep warm.

6. Agile animals

As it is difficult for them to live in warmer temperatures due to their thick coats, the wild yak is normally not found below 3,000m. This means he has to stay up in the mountains and sometimes navigate rocky surfaces. But the yak is agile and can walk where sheep and horses can’t. He can also swim through rapids in a river.

7. Eat, eat, eat!

In winter, the main diet of the yak consists of grass and herbs and, in summer, he eats moss and lichens. He has a four-part stomach that helps him to consume lots of food.

8. Milk, cheese and butter

Thousands of years ago, people realised the value of yak milk and, today, yak milk is still popular among people from Tibet. It is rich in nutrients, and is also used to make cheese and butter. The Tibetan national beverage is yak tea – a savoury drink that is made from black tea leaves, water, salt and yak butter.

9. Declining numbers

Although they’re not listed as endangered anymore, the wild yak numbers have declined drastically since the 1900s, when Tibetan and Mongolian herders and military personnel hunted yaks. Before that, there were many yaks grazing the fields of Tibet.

10. Home

The yak is originally from the Himalayan mountain range in Tibet, China, Mongolia, Nepal and Central Asia. Today, domesticated yaks can be found all over the world in countries with colder temperatures, including Europe and Northern America.