Chronicle of a wildlife-human conflict in Changtang, Tibet.
“A wild yak is mixing with my livestock! Take your camera, let's drive it away!”
It is early morning when Lozhan, the village head, rushes into my room urging me to leave my breakfast milk tea and follow him. Five minutes later two jeeps are roaring on the dusty road with seven of us chasing the intruder.
“I've tried everything. I've made noises, thrown stones, no way to move it out! I need your help!” explains us with frustration Caiwong, a 25-year-old domestic yak herder of the Garco village.
It is mid-May, still an early time for male wild yaks to become interested in domesticated females. This powerful “invader” seems quite young, aging four or maybe five years old. Last night, it silently sneaked in the heard, and today he shows bold and confident like a lord surrounded by its harem of over 100 female yaks.
A male wild yak in a domestic herd. ©WCS/梁旭昶
The herd is roaming on a rocky hill slope, which makes it difficult for us to expel the intruder away. Caiwong imploring eyes urge us to try without further hesitations. Any delay would make it increasingly difficult for him to manage his herd and milk the females. Who knows for how long?
We commence our “attack” from the side, attempting to surround the male yak and push it to a lower, more leveled terrain where we can more effectively use the two jeeps to scare it away from the heard with trumpets and threatening maneuvers.
For a few minutes success seems at reach: the herd is moving downwards as expected, somewhat in a tidy order. The male wild yak must be feeling a bit confused by seeing us crawling closer with our cars, roaring with the engine at full speed due to the land steepness. Meanwhile, Caiwong is also guiding the herd with his whistles.
This does not last long. The wild yak realizes that we are not there for celebrating its wedding, but are actually trying hard to take its brides away. After some hesitation it glances at its brides, then furiously looks at us and tightens its tail upright, lowers its neck and displays its mighty broad horns. With its 800kg weight we cannot keep from breaking out in a cold sweat, despite the solid steel of the vehicle protecting us.
The yak stands some 50 meters ahead, furiously staring at us while the domesticated herd is moving slowly downwards behind. “Maybe it is just covering its brides’ retreat” I think while pointing my camera to shoot the scene.
The wild yak chasing our jeep. ©WCS/梁旭昶
One breath and our hope inevitably vanishes: with all its anger the wild yak begins to run towards us, bold and brave in front of its brides, ready to risk its life against our noisy moving boxes. Lozhan at the wheel reacts quickly, he flats out the gas pedal and turns the jeep away. With the horn roaring loud, we all shout loud: “Go away! Don’t come to us!!” while we are taking the flight away from the massive yak. Several minutes pass, they feel like hours to me. The yak is always at our back, at times as close as a couple of meters.
Half a kilometer away, my body feels like a milkshake because of the unpaved road, but luckily the fierce animal is heading back to its brides with a seemingly triumphant pace. We are lucky that he simply shared our goal: expelling the intruder out. Otherwise we certainly wouldn't be so lucky to report no damages to the car.
Our jeep while attempting to chase the intruder away. ©WCS/梁旭昶
That day we tried several other times, until we got stuck in a swamp during a strategic retreat. The young wild yak proved to be a strong adult male, impressively restless in defending its brides. Accepting his fate, Caiwong left alone while his heard was grazing away into the sunset together with the powerful male.
The Changtang National Nature Reserve in Tibet is experiencing an increasing competition for wild yak pastures, which leads to frequent conflicts between wild yaks and domestic yak herding communities. At present, despite wild yaks are legally protected against poaching and herder communities benefit from monetary compensation of losses caused by their interference, still competition for quality pastures and interbreeding continue to hinder wild yak conservation.
Officials of Changtang national nature reserve, Shuanghu forestry bureau, Garco township officials and WCS work together to
WCS is currently working together with the Changtang National Nature Reserve, the Shuanghu Forestry Bureau, and the Garco Township to test the introduction of buffer zones and exclusive pasture areas for wild yaks, which we believe may considerably enhance the effectiveness of the current conservation scheme. Meanwhile, we also promote sensitization activities, innovative herding practices, and provide incentives for local communities to diversify their livelihoods and ease the pressure on wild yaks' habitat.
We wish to express our appreciation to the Tibetan Forestry Bureau for its advice and support, and to SaveOurSpecies for the financial support devoted to this conservation program in China.
Author: Liang XuChang (梁旭昶)
Editor: Ramacandra Wong