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Rare Wild Yak Sighting
A geographic and wildlife scientific survey team has announced a sighting of the largest ever known herd of wild yak in the Kunlun Mountains, a de-populated zone between Xinjiang, Qinghai and Tibet. The sighting was said to be as high as 500.

The wild yak (Bos grunniens) is one of China’s principle protected species. The sighting of the yak in such large numbers has caused great excitement amongst the scientific survey team. Zhao Ziyun, head of the scientific survey, and chairman of the Xinjiang Branch of the Chinese Association of Scientific Exploration, said that it is the first known sighting of the yak in such a size herd. While the team’s main activities are to check local water resources as well as climatic and geographic conditions, animal welfare is also a high priority.

“Since September 12, snowstorms have continuously beaten down on the de-populated zone, making the mountain areas white and animal movement more conspicuous. We have seen that the wild yak living there have been migrating north, towards the Kumatage Desert, along the vast river valley. A herd of 500 wild yak constitutes a massive herd. It is moving very slowly and we have noticed how some members of the herd have formed smaller units or teams, known as clans, that will usually keep some distance from other clan formations. From above, the herd looks like black lines stretching out for several kilometers across the white reflective mountains. It really is quite spectacular.”

According to Zhao Ziyun, a 1983 survey carried out on wild yak numbers in the Aerjin Nature Reserve showed that the largest herd ever seen and recorded there consisted of just 200 animals.

Gu Jinghe, a reseacher with the Xinjiang Ecology and Geographic Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences suggested that this was a first.

“To my knowledge, the largest herd of wild yak consists of 400 animals. Finding such a large herd is indeed very rare.”

In the early 1980s, Gu Jinghe surveyed the wild animals of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and discovered that the wild yak is a macro-species peculiar to this region and this is why it has high-priority species protection. It is rare but not yet endangered. The yak inhabit the plateau at a level of between 3,000 and 6,000 meters above sea-level and then variously distribute along Xinjiang, Tibet, Gansu and Qinghai.

Around the world there are approximately 100,000 wild yak with a high proportion distributed in China’s Qinghai-Tibet plateau. Gu Jinghe pointed out that the yak is gregarious and a social animal and that generally several dozens form a herd but sometimes this might rise to 100. He speculated that the fertility, or “on heat,” season of September for the wild yak occurs at the same time as this rare sighting, leaving questions as to the large numbers. The pregnancy of a yak lasts about 9 months with one young forming a litter. It is not unheard of male yak to rush, unprovoked, into a tamed herd for mating when they are on heat. Abduction of tamed yak is also known to happen.

(china.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, September 30, 2002)

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