Known to some as jewels that grant all your wishes (Tibetan interpretation) the yaks pictured here live in the Himalayan region on the Nepal side and can trek as high as 20,000 feet; higher than almost any other animal on earth.
These large beasts, weighing up to 1,800 pounds (I've read even 2,200 but not sure that's true), are well adapted to high altitude because their red blood cells hold three times the oxygen of other like size animals. Most yak stay above 12,000 feet elevation their whole lives and do not usually survive below 10,500 feet. While there are 12 - 14 million domesticated yak in the world, there are only an estimated 2000 or fewer wild yak (aka Drongs) left on the planet. China has listed the wild yak as one their officially protected animals.
Males of the species are technically called Yak while the female is referred to as Nak or Dri. Whether female or male, however, to most non-locals the world over, Yak is the commonly used term encompassing both sexes. Most of what trekkers in the Himalayans come in contact with are Dzo, which is a crossbreed of a wild yak and a cow. Again,the term Dzo is technically the male of the species and females are known as Dzomoor or Zhom.
Below are pictures of the Himalayan terrain as we headed toward Mt. Everest. In this article, you'll also find pictures of yaks along the trails and pictures of Sherpas and locals with their back breaking loads. All photos are for sale directly through me or through my online art gallery.
Yaks are some of the most, if not the most, sure footed animals you'll ever see. They can carry up to 210 lbs while traversing over suspension bridges and up and down narrow, rocky paths. It was remarkable watching them negotiate the terrain, fully loaded down with heavy, bulky packs and not once seeing them slip or falter.
One of the rules of trekking was to always give yaks the right of way on the trails. Human trekkers were to step aside and always, always yield to the yaks. Sometimes that meant standing on the outside of the path's edge with nothing between you and a thousand foot drop off.
This is one of my favorite pictures I took on the trek. The elevation here was about 14,000 feet. The hardy woman was trekking between villages. Much of what is brought into the small villages is packed on the backs of humans or animals.
Below are pictures of Sherpas and locals -- common examples of what was typical to see along the trails.I was continually amazed at the strength and endurance of the locals ....
Here the yak herder is looking for more 'encouragement' to throw at her yaks.
Yaks often walked single file, but the rocks
flying at them riled this group and
caused some commotion.
One independent yak was not happy with this herder's flying rocks .....
Yaks can live up to the age of 25 and are the lifeblood of the Himalayan people. They provide food: meat, milk, butter and cheese. Their fur and hair generate a steady stream of income as its made into cashmere blankets and sweaters. It's also used for tent material, purses, bags and even made into rope. The undercoat and hump hair is made into cloth. Sometimes the tails are sold as fly swatters.
On my trek to the base camp of Mt. Everest in the fall of 2006, our group stayed at various tea houses along the trail. In the evenings, the wood stoves would get stoked up with piles of dried dung, burned much the way westerners use firewood. Once the stoves were roaring hot, pans of water were heated for showering. The hot water was poured into containers perched above our make shift outdoor shower stall. There was enough warm water to very quickly wash as long as you turned the water on and off while soaping up and rinsing off.
Dried yak dung is a large source of what locals in the Himalayas use for heating and cooking. It was common to see yak dung made into paddies and dried on the side of dwellings like you see in these photos. An estimated 7,000 of these paddies will heat one home for through the long, harsh winters.
This is how yak meat was packed up the trail to the various tea houses. It was out in the hot sun for hours. After seeing this, most trekkers were happy to order vegetarian only dishes.
These were the long haired yaks on the last day of the trek to the base camp. This photo was taken at over 17,000 feet elevation.
Yaks getting to rest between their trek to the next village on the Nepal side of the Himalayas.
Below are more yak pictures. The airplane photo was on the October morning we flew into Lukla, Nepal where we started our trek.
The first village we spent the night at was Namche Bazaare. It's an historic trading post where Nepalese and Tibetan traders exchange salt, dried meat, gold and textiles. The following morning, I was outside our tea house brushing my teeth alongside our porters (what many people call Sherpas). I felt something at my back and when I turned around I found myself face-to-face with a very large yak! The first thought that went through my mind was how my daughter would have loved that. She is an animal lover like I am, starting from the time she was a toddler. It was one of those extraordinary moments that only traveling to far away places can ever bring. I only wish someone would have caught the moment on film! I'm sure my expression was priceless!
To say yaks are the "lifeblood" of the Himalayan people also has a literal interpretation. Some Tibetans and Nepalis drink cups of yak blood in the belief that it will cure all kinds of diseases. It's also used as an aphrodisiac.
There's a controversial festival in Nepal where yaks are drained of their blood for human consumption. The article below from thehindu.com explains more:
STRAIGHT FROM THEHINDU.COM:
Men, women and even children have been heading for Myagdi, a remote district in western Nepal, to take part in the khun khane ritual, which literally means drinking blood. The festival sees the local yak herders making money by selling the blood of live yaks to people who queue up in hundreds to drink it, in the belief their illnesses will be cured.
While lactating female yaks are spared, other yaks above the age of two are chosen for the ritual. Pinned down by people who hold their tails and horns and their legs tied, the yaks are then bled by a professional bleeder, known as the aamji.
The aamji pierces the jugular vein of the hapless animal and the streaming blood is collected in cups that are then passed among the crowd, who drink the warm, frothy liquid unwaveringly. Each yak is bled to collect between 20 to 40 cups of blood.
The ritual is believed to be an old Tibetan one that originated in Mustang in northern Nepal, once part of an ancient Tibetan kingdom. The participants are mostly people suffering from chronic diseases who have given up hope of being cured by modern medicine. An American researcher, Zorina Curry, who studied the khun khane festival, correlates the ritual to the belief in witchcraft and the superstition that blood is effective as medicine as well as an aphrodisiac.
However, Curry also warned that since the yaks were not inoculated, some had TB and the blood—drinking could infect the human drinker.
The festival has been condemned by Nepal’s animal rights activists who last year urged the government to stop the slaughter of tens of thousands of animals and birds at the five—yearly Gadhimai Festival but to no avail.
The Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWNN) has termed the khun khane practice barbaric.
“Can you think how painful it must be for these innocent creatures to have their necks and bodies pierced and to be drained of blood?” AWNN had said in an earlier statement.
“Humanity as a whole must speak out against cruelty against living beings in the name of religion, culture or health.”
RAISING YAKS FOR FIBER
I found several yak ranches in Colorado where yaks are bred for meat, dairy, fiber, and as pack animals. I came across this interesting article on yak fiber too. Below is part of the article straight from the website of YAMPA VALLEY YAKS located near Steamboat Springs:
Yaks produce two types of hair. The outer coarse guard hair is good for braiding into ropes and halters or weaving into rugs, belts, and bags. The soft underhair is called "down" and has a diameter of 14-16 microns, comparable to cashmere. For maximum softness, it must be "dehaired" to remove any guard hair. It's very short staple make it a challenge to spin in pure form and it is often blended with fibers with a longer staple such as wool or silk. Yaks living in cold weather will put on a heavy coat and produce one to two pounds of fiber annually.
If you are considering a yak for fiber production, the first and most important thing is to have tame yaks, ones you can handle easily. Then it is a simple and enjoyable task to groom them in the spring to collect the fiber. Since we have royals, I try to comb out the fiber by color and keep one bag for white, one bag for black, and one bag for mixed. I wash each batch by soaking it in hot water and detergent in the automatic washer. DO NOT agitate it or you will have a washer full of felt.
After it is dried on a screen, I send the down off to Canada to be dehaired. Unfortunately, the dehairing process for cashmere will not work on yak, as yak has several intermediate lengths of guard hair. Minimills in Canada is the only place I have found to process so it adds considerable cost to the price of yak down. The down then needs to be carded very carefully (or not at all). I spin it "softly" and knit natural -colored sweaters and caps with it. For easier spinning, it can be blended with other fibers. Lambspun in Fort Collins, Colorado, blends a yarn of imported yak, wool, and silk to make a beautiful and prize-winning yarn. READ FULL ARTICLE
HERE ARE A FEW WEBSITES WITH INFORMATION ABOUT YAKS
(I cannot attest to the accuracy of the info found at these sites.)
A re-post from 2011
by Betsy Seeton
Poachers are to blame for killing and/or caging exotic animals, but the buyers -- the people who are creating the demand -- are equally to blame. If you're buying medicinal products that, for example, contain illegal tiger parts, Yak blood or rhino and elephant horns, just to name a few, you're as much a part of why so many animals face extinction as the poachers are. If the demand for such things as ivory, zebra and tiger fur, or the desire to own an exotic animal were gone, it would bring an end to the supply side of things meaning poachers wouldn't have a reason to kill or confiscate an animal. But the demand is high and the money is better than dealing drugs.
Other problems hamper bringing an end to animal trafficking with the poor to non existent laws and severe lack of follow through after apprehending poachers. If law enforcement doesn't do its job, and the courts don't do theirs, the offenders walk and get right back to the business of trafficking.
The following was taken from understory.ran.org who took it from the Jakarta Globe:
As Tracy McVeigh reports from the UK, Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo) has almost 10% of the world’s tropical forest and an extraordinary biodiversity that constantly multiplies with three new species being discovered there on average every month. It is the only home of some of the world’s most endangered mammals: the Bornean pygmy elephant, clouded leopard, sun bear and orangutan. All of them face extinction if the ancient forest is destroyed.
But there are other species, such as the wild banteng, pangolins, crocodiles, tigers, elephants and rhinos, that are less threatened by habitat loss than they are hunting, according to Erik Meijaard, who reported the following in the Jakarta Globe:
Hunting is happening inside and outside protected areas and enforcement of anti-hunting laws is nearly nonexistent. Only the anti-poaching teams for tiger and rhino protection seem to have had some success in catching poachers and getting them prosecuted. The rest of the hunting goes on largely unnoticed, uncontrolled and unpunished.
Indonesia does have laws against killing, trading or otherwise harming protected species, but apart from a handful of cases in which tiger and rhino poachers were jailed, no one has ever been effectively prosecuted for illegally killing protected wildlife in Indonesia.
A recent report by the wildlife trade organization Traffic suggested that more than 1,000 orangutans are killed or captured each year in Kalimantan for the wildlife trade alone. Recent surveys by the Nature Conservancy and the Indonesian Association of Primatologists (Perhappi) suggest that this figure may be an underestimate, and that many more orangutans are killed simply for local consumption.
As Malaysian President Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) welcomed in the new Wildlife Protection Act, others scoffed at the legislation, deeming it mired in bureaucratic procrastination:
Unfortunately most cases of wildlife crime end in acquittal either because the procedures are not followed meticulously or the documents are riddled with loopholes.
Cases of wildlife smuggling should be treated like those in narcotics crime and punishment based on the quantum of seizures to help curb smuggling.
It is time to fight wildlife crime effectively, and collective actions must be taken to stop the key drivers that are bringing tigers and other endangered species to the brink of extinction: poaching, smuggling and illegal trade.
This was posted under Animal Rights & Welfare
and reposted here in case you missed it.
"For more than 25 years, Zoocheck has been a leading voice for the protection of wild animals. We are the only Canadian organization with a specific focus on captive wild animal issues and problems." ZooCheck.com
I read an interview with Rob Laidlaw in
lobbyingactivist.blogspot.com and his beliefs resonated with me so much. I'm a huge advocate that we must begin teaching children around the world a compassionate view of animals. Change will come when a new generation of humans embraces and passes along the fact that animals should not be treated as property. They should be treated as wonderful, beautiful creatures who feel with a wide range of emotions and are born with the right to live a natural life. Animals should not be stolen from the wild or bred in captivity and forced into a life of entertainment. I coined this quote influenced by John F. Kennedy's words: "Ask not what an animal can do for you but what you can do for animal."
Rob Laidlaw was quoted as saying, "Yes, humane education should be built into every curriculum in every school. At present, science is taught as the science of the dead with dissection of animals and the compartmentalising of nature. ‘Biology' should shift to ‘ecology' where animals are seen in totality as a part of nature, and not divided into tiny components of nature, the reductionist approach to science. We need to inculcate an emotive response in children. We need them to be aware of Jeremy Bentham's words, “they can't talk, they can't reason, but they can suffer.”
FROM http://www.bookcentre.ca :
Rob Laidlaw has spent 30 years campaigning to protect animals of all kinds. His work has taken him from Canada's north to tropical Asia and includes more than 1,000 visits to zoos around the world. He is a Chartered Biologist, avid outdoorsman, cave explorer, and a founder of the wildlife protection organization Zoocheck Canada. He regularly provides commentary on animal issues to print, radio and television media and speaks to groups of all ages throughout the world.
In 2008, Laidlaw’s first children’s book, Wild Animals in Captivity, was released. His second book, On Parade, The Hidden World of Animals in Entertainment, is scheduled for release in 2010, while a third book about rescue centers and sanctuaries is now in the works.
For more information, please visit Rob's websites at www.zoocheck.com andwww.wildanimalsincaptivity.com.
IF YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT BEAR BILE FARMING PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO POSTED BELOW. PRESSURE MUST BE MAINTAINED ON CHINA TO END THIS APPALLING ABUSE.
"More than 10,000 bears are kept on bile farms in China, and around 2,400 suffer the same fate in Vietnam. The bears are "milked" regularly for their bile, which is not only used in traditional medicine but also in many ordinary household products.
Bile is extracted using various painful, invasive techniques, all of which cause massive infection in the bears. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of a large number of effective and affordable herbal and synthetic alternatives.
Most farmed bears are kept in tiny cages. In China, the cages are sometimes so small that the bears are unable to turn around or stand on all fours. Some bears are caged as cubs and never released. Bears may be kept caged for up to 30 years. Most farmed bears are starved, dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that ultimately kill them." www.animalsasia.org
CLICK TO FIND OUT What We Do?
by Betsy Seeton
Picture this. You’re in Costa Blanca Spain. It’s early September. You’re seated in a spectator stand amidst a large, drinking crowd. A man-made beach separates you and the other spectators from the open sea. A 9-day festival called Javea Bous a la Mar aka “Bulls to the Sea” honoring Our Lady of Loreto is just about to start.
You gaze out to sea while waiting for the bulls to arrive. You may or may not ask who is this “Lady of Loreto”? Loreto refers to the house in which Virgin Mary was born. The story goes that a band of angels scooped up the little house from the Holy Land, and transported it first to Tersato, Dalmatia in 1291, then to Reananti in 1294, and finally to Loreto, Italy where it has been for centuries. Popes have always held the Shrine of Loreto in special esteem, and it is under their direct authority and protection.
But if you know this little bit of history, you’re probably only a handful or less who do. No one is there for a history lesson. Yes, the festival is steeped in tradition, but that’s not the point. It’s party time. The bulls – up to six – arrive by truck and get deposited into a secured area under the stand. The fun (or if you’re the bull – the horror) is about to begin.
The bull’s horns are lit on fire followed by a single firework going off. Ah, yes, the fun of it all. The burning bull reacts the way you might imagine. He’s panic stricken, terrified, and runs from the pain of his burning horns. He’s berserk and runs out into the open sandy area, where if things aren’t bad enough, a band of local lads run around further agitating the poor beast. Their aim is to bait him to attack them near the waterfront so that he will fall into the sea. He’s not supposed to die. He’s just supposed to entertain.
Horrifically, the torture of animals as entertainment dates back thousands of years. (Look for my upcoming article about the history of circuses.) Very sadly at one of these festivals over the past few years of “Bulls to the Sea” one bull gave his last performance. A spectator reported that after one of the bull’s horns was lit it took no more than five minutes for the animal to dive into the sea, and due to his extremely fatigued state, he was unable to stay afloat and all efforts to revive it were in vain. He died in the sea.
What else is there to say? There are no words to describe this outrage. I leave you with your thoughts and possibly a little heavier heart.
One last thing. Er... make that two last things. If you want to stop this atrocity of lighting bulls on fire at festivals and bullfights, log onto Change.org and sign a petition. It’s free. It’s quick. And it has the power to carry your voice along with thousands of others to be heard by the people who can stop this. My last thought is a question. From what I read, this festival didn't always include burning the bull's horns. But how does this festival (bull burning or not) of chasing a bull to dive into the sea honor the Virgin Mary??
John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at Bristol, has just published a book on the topic, Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden. “People have assumed that intelligence is linked to the ability to suffer and that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less than humans. That is a pathetic piece of logic,” he said.
[ I first posted this on my photography website, but as the content
grew, it seemed appropriate to post under Jasper's Blog.]
I am currently wintering in cow country and farmville. In any direction I go I will see pastures of horses, cows, goats, sheep, alpacas, and chickens. Yesterday I stopped at a large cow feed lot. The troughs had just been filled and the cows were gathered on both sides of the little road behind fences.
I'm out with my camera talking up a storm with these cows. If the cow owners ever heard me, they'd think I was crazy for sure. The thing is, I was connecting with them. It's not my first time. I mooed at a group of cows last year and ended up with the whole herd standing there in a large mass just staring at me. I have photos to prove it!
Yesterday, these cows, up to fifty or more of them, held my eyes intently and the ones that were eating stopped to gaze at me. What animal stops eating like that? They slowly went back to eating, but continually paused to watch me. The whole herd began to gather and come toward me. Some were pushing through the crowd like someone does who has to see what all the fuss is about. If any group of animals could be said to look like a crowd of humans gathering around a super star or something, it was these cows. Even the cows at the back of the pasture began to walk toward me. They all had their eyes on me. And I mean all of them.
The most remarkable thing was when number 1-29 came up to the fence to reach my hand and offered her nose to be petted the way I would pet a horse. I was mesmerized. I'd never stroked a cow before. She backed away after I petted her and seemed to be processing what just happened and then came up for another pat before I left.
When I first wrote this piece I wrote this sentence, "Other cows stood around her as if admiring her courage and it seemed they wish they had the guts to be so curious." When a reader commented on Reddit about this here's what was said:
"Yes, it's obvious that cows are sentient, i.e. are aware of their surroundings and experience pain. But sentences like this make me cringe;"Other cows stood around her as if admiring her courage and it seemed they wish they had the guts to be so curious."Sigh, anthropomorphism like this just destroys any logical argument."
I get what the reader is saying. I actually agree. The way I worded that sentence is questionable. But I try not to anthromopomorphize when I'm experiencing connections with other life forms. I don't want that label. I spend a lot of time in the field with camera, and a lot of time with my subjects to 'get to know them' so to speak. I've written about my interactions with bees, spiders, butterflies, wasps, dragonflies, grasshoppers, chipmunks, birds, and list goes on. I'll never know for sure what any of these creatures were thinking. What I can do is simply express how it felt. I'm not saying it is what I felt, and there's a difference between saying "it felt" and claiming the creature was feeling such and such.
The whole encounter touched me deeply. I kept thinking I wish I could hear what they had to say. Their eyes had a story to tell me. I could feel it. They were so alive and full of want and desire. I kept talking to them. It was gut wrenching to know they were all going to be killed soon. If more people could have a chance to connect like I did, I wonder if it would change anything?
"Recent studies have shown that farm animals do in fact exhibit human-like qualities in terms of their emotional life and in their relations with other animals. Cows in particular, who are often used as an example to showcase mindless docility in animals, do in fact have a complex internal psychological life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships and become excited over intellectual challenges. They're also capable of feeling strong emotions such as happiness, pain, fear and even anxiety." Source
"A genetic study of cattle has claimed that all modern domesticated bovines are descended from a single herd of wild ox, which lived 10,500 years ago."
~ By Duncan Geere, Wired UK
"Beef cattle are often reared outdoors on grass, although many are brought indoors or crowded into feedlots for fattening before slaughter. Even though many cattle in the UK, Ireland and Northern France are fattened on grass, many cattle are fattened indoors across most of Europe. In indoor systems, beef cattle are commonly housed on slatted floors in crowded conditions, which increases aggression and can lead to severe injuries and lameness." Source
On November 2nd the Sacramento Bee and the Missoula Independent published graphic images of Wyoming-based Wildlife Services employee Jamie P. Olson's dogs tormenting and mauling trapped wildlife including coyotes, bobcats and raccoons. The articles detailed animal abuse and torture instigated by Olson, who posted these photographs (several of which are described as “work” indicating he took these while working for the government) on various websites including his personal Facebook Page and several hunting sites.
Gary Strader, a former Wildlife Services trapper in Nevada, reports in the Sacramento Bee (11.2.12) that such abuse is “very common” and was not surprised to learn about the photos. "It always was and always will be controversial. It has never been addressed by the higher-ups. They know it happens on a regular basis."
Such brutality and callous disregard for the welfare of animals is particularly egregious when done by a government employee in the course of his employment and must not be tolerated.
Please join Project Coyote, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and many other organizations and individuals in calling for Olson’s immediate termination and for an investigation into this and other reports of animal cruelty.
(Please click "Opt-In" when signing this petition and we will keep you informed on meaningful ways to protect coyotes and other native carnivores from wanton abuse and cruelty and to promote coexistence instead of killing.)
"Three coyotes caught in leg-hold traps, at top and foreground, await death in Nevada. This photo, taken by a Wildlife Services trapper, also shows the trapper's dogs attacking the coyote in the foreground. A letter writer says such practices are inhumane and should be ended." SOURCE: Sacramento Bee Read more here on this article.
"Ask not what an animal can do for you; ask what you can do for an animal." Jasper
"The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men." ~Alice Walker
The source of the quote is Walker's preface to Marjorie Spiegel's 1988 book, "The Dreaded Comparison" . Her next sentence was, "This is the gist of Ms. Spiegel's cogent, humane and astute argument, and it is sound."