Steep decline in Yak population in India

There are about 65,000 yaks in the country now - a steep decline from 1,32,000 in 1977. The yak population in China is 13 million.

Of the 65,000 yaks, Arunachal Pradesh alone accounted for 13,000 as per the 2003 census, scientists at the National Research Centre on Yak (NRCY) at Dirang in the state's West Kameng district said.

In 1991, the number had touched the nadir at just 30,000 while in the next census it slightly rose to 37,000, Dr K K Baruah, director of NRCY, said.

The gradual decline of the yak - also known as the Ship of the Mountain, Bison of Tibet and Mountain Machine - is also attributed to poor management practices and inbreeding, he said.

"Reproductive disorders like delayed puberty, long post partum anoestrous and repeated breeding are major hindrances for increasing yak population," Dr Baruah said.

"Along with the declining yak population, the number of yak farmers, known as brokpas, are also decreasing," he said.

Established in 1989, NRCY, the only institution of its kind in India, is conducting exclusive research on the overall improvement and conservation of yak for higher productivity and profitability so as to improve the socio-economic conditions of the Yak-rearing community.

"There is an urgent need to take measures to promote yak farming through scientific intervention and initiatives have been taken to trace the naturally existing grasslands through satellite mapping and assess the production capacity of these pastures," Dr Baruah said.

He said through extensive studies the NRCY has formulated a special feed for yaks which contains all vital nutrients.

The 'Complete Feed Block' with area-specific mineral mixture developed by the centre is specially useful for the winter when fodder is scanty.

During the last two decades, the NRCY had undertaken several research programmes to overcome the reproductive problems in yaks.

Yak semen collection and freezing and artificial insemination are now routine practices at this institute and artificial insemination has been disseminated to the field level through various extension camps.

Freezing of semen in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees celsius from pedigreed yak bull is essential for conservation of yak germ plasm and can be used even after the bull dies.
Describing the process of insemination, which was carried out at NRCY for the first time in 2006, Dr Baruah said five genetically superior yak bulls maintained at the centre were employed for the purpose.

He said 18 calves had been produced by the method and supplied to farmers from the centre.

Currently the NRCY is working on in-vitro fertilisation with support from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, and has produced yak hybrid embryos in the laboratory, the director said.

The animal provides various sources of income to yak farmers through its products including milk and its products like ghee, butter and churpi, meat and meat products, wool and wool products.

Yak milk has more fat content than cattle milk, Dr Baruah said.
"While the fat content in ordinary cattle milk is 3 to 4 per cent, it is 6 to 8 per cent in yaks' milk," he said.

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