Rare Animals in the Tibetan Plateau


Fantastic Animals in the Tibet Plateau

On some highlands in Tibet, we found flocks of wild yaks ranging from a dozen to thirty, sometimes even more. Most wild yaks are black, but brown-yellow ones are extremely rare. These creatures roam swiftly on the rugged, gravel ground, enjoying the snow, forest, and eternal wind there.


In 1897, British Captain Henry Hugh Peter Deasy, who ended his nine-year military career in India, began his plan to explore the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China. Such a discovery is recorded in his book:

 Wild Yaks in Tibet

On some highlands in Tibet, we found flocks of wild yaks ranging from a dozen to thirty, sometimes even more. 

Most wild yaks are black, but brown-yellow ones are extremely rare. These creatures swam swiftly across the rugged, gravel ground, enjoying the snow, forest, and eternal wind. 

In Tibet and Chinese Turkestan: Being the record of three years' exploration.

Black Yak Tibetan Animal

Captain Dixi didn't know what a unique existence the wild yak with a rare coat color he accidentally discovered. Unique to today, more than 120 years later, the scientific community is still debating whether it should be an independent subspecies.


But this is excusable, after all, for most people, the place where it lives is an out-and-out wilderness.


I. Wilderness Carnival

Between the northwest of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the Kunlun Mountains in the north, the Tanggula Mountains in the east, the Gangdise Mountains-Nyainqentanglha Mountains in the south and the Karakoram Mountains in the west, there is a vast "open space". This is the Qiangtang. , Also known as the Northern Tibet Plateau.


This is the largest landform unit on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, covering an area of ​​nearly 600,000 square kilometers, equivalent to six Jiangsu provinces. 

Here is also the area with the highest average elevation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. 

At an average elevation of 5,000 meters, mountains, hills and plains are intertwined with distinct layers.


Meltwater from the glaciers on the high mountains follows the trend and forms intermittent inland rivers, with lakes dotted around the ends of the rivers.


The rivers and lakes of Qiangtang

The rolling mountains in the south block the warm and humid air from the Indian Ocean, making it cold and dry throughout the year. In addition, the desert and frozen soil are rough in texture and low in nutrition. 

The vegetation on the land is low and sparse, and the species is monotonous, mostly creeping Stipa and Wormwood.


Therefore, since ancient times, this place has been a restricted area for human beings. Even today, when the traffic is developed, only a few nomads are active in the marginal area.


Nomads in the surrounding area of ​​Qiangtang

However, in such a harsh environment, there are a large number of Tibetan antelopes, Tibetan wild donkeys, Tibetan antelopes, white-lipped deer, argali, wolves, bears, Tibetan foxes, wild yaks and other wild animals. Carnival of life.


The wild yak is undoubtedly the most powerful creature in this life carnival. According to the latest survey statistics, the number of wild yaks in Qiangtang is currently between 11,000 and 21,000, which is six times as much as the neighboring Hoh Xil Nature Reserve.


Tall and strong, they have strong cold-tolerance, drought-tolerance and load-bearing capacity. 

Yak and yak milk are high-quality sources of protein and calories, and thick fur is the best material to withstand the cold. By domesticating wild yaks, humans on the plateau have found a reliable support for life.


At the end of the 20th century, as the census of Tibetan cultural relics began, researchers successively discovered thousands of rock paintings on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the earliest dating back to 3000 years. 

Most of the rock paintings are located in the south of Qiangtang. 90% of the images in the paintings are animals. 

Among these 90%, the yak is the most numerous and often appears as the protagonist.


Yak in the rock painting

And among the well-known wild yaks, there is another group of rare individuals. They are burly and golden all over. This is the unique population mentioned at the beginning of the article, and they are called "golden wild yaks."


II ."Sacred Cow" on the Plateau

In Tibet, all mountains have gods. There is a sacred mountain among the local population in Ritu County in the Qiangtang National Nature Reserve: Zhaqianxue Mountain, which is one of the core areas for the activities of the golden silk wild yak.


There has always been a legend among the local Tibetans: Buye Snow Mountain in the east of Zhaqian Snow Mountain was his wife. When Buye Snow Mountain got married here, Buye’s brother (saying his parents) gave 7 wild yaks with golden silk. Give her as a dowry, this is the origin of the golden silk wild yak.


Following the enlightenment of mythology, the local people regarded these wild yaks that came with the sacred mountain as gods, and believed that hunting them would lead to bad luck. 

Even the bones of the wild yak that died naturally were forbidden to be taken home.


They have been living in legends and stories until 2014, when researchers from the Chinese Academy of Forestry and Central University for Nationalities analyzed the genes of the golden wild yak and the black wild yak. 

They found that the genetic difference between the two is greater than the genetic difference between individuals in the black wild yak. The rarity and uniqueness of this creature has finally been scientifically demonstrated.


But for this unique and rare species, we still know too little, and there is no image data for reference. 

In 2016, in order to obtain more research materials, documentary director Kabu organized a film crew of about 30 people to go deep into the hinterland of Qiangtang to carry out long-term tracking and shooting of the wild yak. 

Counting from the first time he saw this unique creature, this action has been brewing for 11 years.


According to Kabu's years of field tracking, observation and research experience in Qiangtang, the range of activities of the golden wild yak is roughly in an area with Alu Co, Luma Jiangdong Co and Zhaqianxue Mountain as the core.


Golden silk wild yak's approximate range of activity


Although the scope of activities is delineated, their uncertain whereabouts and the maze-like terrain of the Qiangtang still make the shooting work difficult. 

The search process was also arduous, and accidents such as car traps and punctures occurred frequently.


Finally, they first met a group of wild yaks in a valley. From a distance, their huge bodies are very flexible, walking briskly on the mountain valleys.


Female and juvenile wild yaks are usually separated from males. They form groups of about dozens of heads. They can even move freely on slopes of about 30° and easily climb over snow-covered mountains.


However, it is not easy to search for the wild yak, which is uncertain and sensitive. With the expansion of the search area and the huge consumption of materials along with the team, the film crew had to withdraw from Qiangtang with regret, and waited 4 months before returning again. Enter no man's land.


This time, they encountered an adult male golden wild yak acting alone. In Qiangtang, almost no animals are its opponents. 

When it is grumpy and chooses to fight the "invaders" head-on, even the hungry wolves and strong brown bears are not taken seriously.


Adult male wild yak can exceed 170 cm in height at the shoulder and weigh more than 1,000 kg. 

Every part of their body seems to be born for the wilderness of Qiangtang: thick fur, strong lung capacity, sturdy limbs, and a pair of big horns.


Even every blood cell in the body is customized for the oxygen-dilute plateau: the cell volume is smaller, and the amount of blood per unit volume is larger, so the oxygen carrying capacity is several times that of the average domestic yak.


When such a giant beast rushes towards you with sand and rocks, the only option is to escape.


The male golden wild yak is very aggressive


In order to avoid interference with wild animals to the greatest extent, and to capture the survival of the wild yak in the natural state, the film crew changed the direct tracking and shooting plan to shooting with a trigger infrared camera.


In the lens of these infrared cameras, the golden wild yak has removed the halo of the "sacred cow", and we see the other side of them: quiet and peaceful, even a little cute.


They will feed on low grass and moss with their tongues full of horny barbs to provide nutrients to their huge bodies. 

When food is insufficient, they have to travel long distances to find high-quality and sufficient forage, and even need to eat snow to replenish water during the journey.


In order to improve the cold resistance and reduce heat dissipation on the body surface, they have evolved thick fur, and their tongues have become their radiator.


The perfect physiological structure and tough living habits have created them, making them a veritable "Qiangtang Totem".



III. The Tomorrow of "Shen Niu"

At the end of the 20th century, at the invitation of the Chinese government, George Schaller, an American biologist, went to Qiangtang three times to investigate wild animals. 

Through his records, we may find that the proportion of golden-threaded wild yak in the entire wild yak community decreased gradually, reaching the most. Only less than 10 heads were found at one time.


And through the lens of today's camera crew, we also see the difficult living conditions of this creature. Based on his own observations over the years, Kabu estimates that the number of Qiangtang Golden Silk Wild Yaks is probably less than 100.


Poaching, overgrazing, stealing minerals, and even walking through uninhabited areas without permission are quietly encroaching on the last habitat of this wild animal. 

Environmental fluctuations also affect the fragile ecosystem of Qiangtang. But we can also see hope.


In order to protect a large number of wild animals including wild yaks, the country established the Qiangtang Nature Reserve in 1993 and upgraded it to a national nature reserve in 2000. 

After the establishment of the reserve, the government set up a patrol team, trained a large number of wild guards, and patrolled the vast area to prevent behaviors that damage wild animals and their habitats.


After the introduction of the policy to protect the habitat of the golden silk wild yak, a local herdsman moved his 5,000 acres of pasture, reducing the number of sheep from 800 to 300. He just said calmly about this:

If the number of wild yaks increases in the future and these pastures are not enough, we will make more space for them as habitats. 

The herders will agree to these practices, and no one will disagree.


The wild animals on the plateau, represented by the golden-threaded wild yak, seem to be far away from us, but they are closely related to people’s lives: they are part of Tibetan culture, and they are a diverse pool of genes, viruses and bacteria that carry anthrax to humans. 

The research on zoonotic diseases such as tetanus and tuberculosis is of far-reaching significance.


The Beautiful Life of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

What's more, nature and life alone are sufficient reasons for us to act. Just as George Schaller recorded in the book "The Beautiful Life of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau":


In thousands of years of history, humans have become an integral part of Qiangtang. Our ancestors have left us with numerous wild animals and rich pastures.

When I look at this grassland, what I see is Those sights that have disappeared.


P.S. The best way to protect wild animals is to minimize the impact of human beings. We never encourage the curious behavior of crossing no-man’s land privately. 

While disturbing the animals, it is difficult to guarantee their own safety. Let us only admire the magnificence of life in the image, and leave this land to share with the creatures.


Reference materials: 

Hu Yiming, Li Weiqi, Jiang Zhigang, etc. The population and distribution status of wild yak in Qiangtang and Hoh Xil uninhabited areas (2018)

Liu Wulin, talk about the origin and current situation of wild yak.; George Xia Le, Kang Aili Translated "The Beautiful Creatures of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau"

Zhang Yasha wrote "Rock Paintings in Tibet"; Zhang Yun, Shi Shuo edited "The General History of Tibet·Early Volume"

Zhou Yunyun, Zhang Yuguang, Lu Hui, etc. The preliminary genetic taxonomic status of Tibet's golden silk wild yak Analysis (2015)

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