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Did You Know? Incredible Yak Facts

Amazing Yak facts for kids and adults.

Yaks are cattle animals covered with long hair all over their body. They are classified broadly into two groups- they are domesticated (Bos grunniens) and wild (Bos mutus).  Yaks are high-altitude cousins of the bovine family. They spend their life thriving through the harsh chilly weather of Tibet. So their body is covered with thick fur undercoat to protect them from frigid winter temperature where snow is common. Both the types are herbivorous in nature so their food consists of plants only. Wild yak species, the ancestors of the domesticated yaks, are on the verge of extinction. Some wild species still reside in the Tibetan plains. China and India have taken measures to protect them. The number of domesticated yaks exceeds the population of wild yaks by a huge amount. It is believed that Tibet was the first place to domesticate yaks as cattle animals. If you are interested to learn more about this fascinating animal then check out some cool facts about yaks.

Check out the articles on the leopard seal and the fennec fox.

Yak Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Yak?

A yak is an ox-like animal that is related to cattle of Tibet. Yaks can either be domesticated or wild. Wild yaks are considered to be the ancestors of the present-day's domesticated yaks.

What class of animal does a Yak belong to?

Yaks are warm-blooded and four-legged animals belonging to the class Mammal or Mammalia.

How many Yaks are there in the world?

The population of yak can be classified into the population of wild yaks and that of domesticated yaks. Wild yaks are considered to be the ancestors of these domestic yaks and they are now facing the threat of being gradually extinct. At present scientists have estimated that there are only 15000-20000 wild yaks present in the world mainly in the Tibetan grasslands. The domestic yak population is estimated to be around 14 million-15 million. More than 80% of this total population residing as cattle in China.

Where does a Yak live?

Yaks mainly inhabit the freezing cold mountainous regions of Central Asia. They are found helping people in the Tibetan plateau region and also in countries of central Asia like China, Nepal, and Mongolia. The Himalayan mountain range in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent also serves as a home to domestic as well as the wild species of yak. Yaks are found to prevail in the grasslands of the other parts of the world too where the temperatures are preferably low. Previously, wild yaks were found to be distributed from the southern tip of Siberia to the east of the lake Bakilal. At present, they are found mostly in the northern part of Tibet and in the western parts of Qinghai. A few of them are also found in the southern parts of Xinjiang and extend to Ladakh in Northern India. Wild yak have become completely extinct in Russia and Bhutan. Among all the continents, Asia consists of more than 90% of the entire yak population.

What is a Yak's habitat?

The habitat of yaks is found in highlands like on mountains of the plateau regions. Their bodies are covered in dense body hair which helps them to tolerate temperatures below freezing point. This species of mammals help people who live 4000 ft-5000 ft above sea level. Wild yak reside in treeless highlands that are dominated by hills, plateaus and mountains. However, they cannot survive for long in barren lands of steppe countries. Yaks are common in the alpine tundra region characterized by thick grass carpets and sedges along the mountain-sides of Asia. Long-haired domestic yaks are found along the Himalayan border in the north of the Indian subcontinent. They also inhabit the Tibetan plateau, Yunan, Northern Mayanmar, Sichuan, and even Siberia and Mongolia. A yak spends its life peacefully grazing mountain grass and plain lands. It is also noted that a yak holds the record of living at the highest altitude among all mammals ever.

Who do Yaks live with?

Yaks, like cows, live in herds or groups both in the wild and in domestic places. In the wild, yaks live in mixed herds that consist of males, females, and their young. Sometimes bachelor herds are also found in the wild that consists of males or bulls only. Some wild yak males however tend to live alone without being a part of any herd. Occasionally it might also happen that different herds aggregate together to form larger groups. In general, a single herd contains around 20-25 males, females, and calves.  

How long does a Yak live?

The average lifespan of domestic yaks might differ from that of wild yaks. When a yak is held in captivity, it is fed well and protected from the harshness of nature. Healthy domesticated yaks live for around 20 years-25 years. However, in the wild, there is no one to protect these animals. For this reason, they live shorter than domesticated yaks. The average lifespan of a wild yak is around or less than 20 years.  

How do they reproduce?

Yaks mate in the summer. The mating season of these animals lasts from July to September depending on the type of environment the yak lives in. The males wander in small bachelor groups for most of the year and stay away from the larger herds. As the mating season approaches, the bulls become very aggressive and indulge in regular fights among themselves. The animals do this to stand out and establish dominance.  Along with displaying non-violent threats, bull yaks compete directly with each other and charge at each other repeatedly sparring with their horns or with heads lowered. During the mating season or the rut, the bulls wallow in dry soil for the purpose of scent marking. At the time of oestrus, cow yaks become fertile and receptive for only a few hours. A cow yak can enter oestrus up to four times a year. The gestation period of a yak lasts for a range of 257 days-270 days. The young ones are born around the time of spring, between May to June. The cow yak finds herself a suitable place to give birth. The calf is able to walk within 10 minutes of its birth. Cows typically are able to give birth once a year to a single calf but if the supply of food is good, they can reproduce faster.

What is their conservation status?

There are quite a number of domesticated yaks scattered all over the world. Not only Tibet, China, or northern India, but these animals have crossed Asia and are found in other places too. Domesticated species of yaks are not under any threat of extinction in the near future. However, the ancestors of these domesticated ones, the species of wild yak are considered to be vulnerable in the IUCN Red List. Only a few thousand of them are left mainly in the barren Tibetan plateau. The main threats that are resulting in the rapid depletion of yak in the wild are poaching, interbreeding between herds and climate change. This species falls under protected animals in both China and in the north Indian parts.

Yak Fun Facts

What do Yaks look like?

Yak is one of the smartest cattle animals.

Yaks are bulky creatures with heavy frames. They have sturdy legs and their body is covered with thick and dense hair. Since a yak spends its life in colder areas, they have thick fur covering over their body. Both male and female yaks have a woolly undercoat over their chest to keep them warm and strands of long hair all over their body. They have tufted tails like horses and their coats are generally black or brown in color. Though some wild yaks have been spotted with golden hair instead of black. They are known as golden yaks. They have sharp horns on their heads like all other cattle.

How cute are they?

Yaks, when they are young, look very cute. As they grow up their face gets covered with black or brown hair and they start to look a bit aggressive. However, they mean no harm to you unless they feel intimidated.

How do they communicate?

Unlike other cattle, yaks communicate with each other by producing a grunting sound. Their scientific name, Bos grunniens which means grunting bull is inspired by this feature.

How big is a Yak?

The size of a domesticated yak is smaller compared to that of a wild yak. They are one of the most extant bovid animals. The height of a domestic bull yak ranges from 44 in - 54 in (1.1 m-1.4 m) and the cow yak ranges from 41 in-46 in (1 m-1.2 m). However, the height of bulls and cows of the wild ones are more or less similar and it ranges from 63 in-98 in (1.6 m-2.5 m). The length of a wild and a domesticated yak are respectively 94 in-148 in (2.4 m-3.8 m) and 98 in-130 in (2.5 m-3.3 m).

How fast can a Yak move?

Yaks are generally slow-moving animals. But if they feel intimidated they can chase you at a great speed. A yak can gain speed up to 25 mph. The more aggressive a yak becomes, the more he will tend to run fast.

How much does a Yak weigh?

The weight of a domesticated male yak is 772 lb-1290 lb ( 350 kg-585 kg) and that of a female yak is 496 lb-562 lb (225kg -255 kg). They are lighter than a wild yak that weighs around 1100 lb–2600 lb (500kg –1200 kg).

What are their male and female names of the species?

Generally, the males of this species are called bull yaks and the females are called cow yaks. However, in Tibet, only the males are known as yaks. The females are called dri or nak.  

What would you call a baby Yak?

The babies of the species of yaks are called calves.

What do they eat?

Both wild and domesticated yaks are herbivorous animals which means that they only have plants in their diet. They eat their food once in the morning and once in the evening. They can be seen grazing on grass meadows, lichens and herbs. Yaks also eat sedges like Kobresia, Carex, and stipa. Since they are found in places where snowfalls occur a lot, their main source of water comes from eating ice and snow. However, the wild ones residing in the barren Tibetan plateau have to travel to warmer places especially in winter when everything gets covered with snow in search of grass and herbs. When the winter comes to an end, they retreat to their original places.

Are they dangerous?

Yaks are generally friendly in nature and are calm most of the time. They only show aggression when they feel threatened. Mother yaks are very protective of their babies. The domestic yaks might turn out to be dangerous if they are not treated properly by humans. They use their two massive sharp horns as weapons and when they get angry they swing those like baseball bats.

Would they make a good pet?

Yaks are good pets to work with. They have a cool temperament and if good husbandry processes are followed, yaks tend to cooperate with humans without being much nosy.

Kidadl Advisory: All pets should only be bought from a reputable source. It is recommended that as a potential pet owner you carry out your own research prior to deciding on your pet of choice. Being a pet owner is very rewarding but it also involves commitment, time and money. Ensure that your pet choice complies with the legislation in your state and/or country. You must never take animals from the wild or disturb their habitat. Please check that the pet you are considering buying is not an endangered species, or listed on the CITES list, and has not been taken from the wild for the pet trade.

Did you know...

Yaks have exceptional balancing power. They never fall down. This is why they can be trusted while carrying loads on the mountain passes.

Can a Yak swim?

Yaks take baths in frozen lakes and rivers. They can swim at very low temperatures without disturbing their normal body temperature.

How many stomachs does a Yak have?

Like all other species of cow, a yak also has more than one stomach to absorb all the nutrients that they get from plants.

How strong is a Yak?

It is safe to say five out of five. It is believed that yaks were bred first in Tibet by Qiang herdsmen with the purpose of carrying heavy loads across the high mountain passes. They can carry loads that weigh up to 150 pounds. Yaks are therefore called the 'boats of the plateau' because of their strength.  

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals including the anteater and the plains zebra.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our yak coloring pages.

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