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Part 1 Yak production in six provinces (regions) in China by Han Jianlin[5]

The purpose of this part is to provide more detailed information on the environment and yak husbandry of the six principal provinces with yak in China as a supplement to the general information from China given elsewhere in this book and in particular to the brief mention of these provinces in Chapter 1. (A map of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau in the Appendix shows the provinces and some of the locations - not the prefectures - referred to here).

Tibetan Autonomous Region

General information

Tibetan Autonomous Region (Tibet) (known as Xizang in China), on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau (26o52' - 36o32'N, 78o24' - 99o05'E) has an average altitude above 4 000 m a.s.l. The total area is 1 128 400 sq km - 1 000 km from south to north and 2 000 km from east to west and making up one eighth of the total Chinese territory. It borders Xinjiang, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in China, and the countries of India, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan. The northwest of Tibet is dry and cold and the southeast is relatively warm and humid (rainfall decreases 100-fold from east to west - from 5 000 down to 50 mm/year). The main climatic features are prolonged sunlight, strong radiation, low overall temperature (annual average well below zero) but with large variations, as daytime temperatures in summer can be quite high. There are two distinct seasons: clear and dry, and humid.

For purposes of administration there is one municipality and six prefectures in Tibet (Table 11.1.1). Statistics collected for November 2000 showed 2.62 million residents in Tibet, of which 2.41 million were native Tibetans (National Bureau of Statistics, China, 2001).

Yak population

Animal husbandry is the basic industry of Tibet. In recent years, animal husbandry and the rural economy have developed rapidly. Tibet is one of the five largest pastoral areas in China. Animal husbandry is essential to the livelihood of the local people. Tibet has a total area of 64.8 million ha of rangelands, of which 59.5 million ha are usable pastures. The total livestock population is about 23 million. The policy for livestock development is guided by the principle of "controlling the number of animals, increasing off-take, bettering the structure of production, and improving the profitability of livestock development" (Wang Wenpei, 2002).

Tibetans describe yak as Nuo, meaning treasure and refer to it as "the treasure of the plateau" or "the boat of the plateau" due to its ability to use the highland pastures more efficiently than other livestock and by providing the most to the livelihood of the people living in the area (Yang Xuqing, 2002). The yak is the most important of domestic animals for Tibetan herders and therefore plays a key role in animal husbandry in Tibet (Wang Wenpei, 2002). Northern Tibet is the area generally accepted as that in which yak were originally domesticated some 4 500 years ago (cf. Chapter 1). Cai Li (1989) reported that in 1983 there were 3.2 yak per sq km in Tibet and one yak for every three persons, but since then there has been a slight increase in yak numbers (see Table 11.1.1).

Among the various prefectures of Tibet, yak numbers and the populations of other livestock differ substantially and are shown in Table 11.1.1. Over the past 20 years there has been a slight decline in yak numbers in Nakchu, which has the largest yak population among the prefectures, and a slight increase in Chamdo where yak-cattle hybrids have a significant role, with more than half the total number of hybrids found in the main agro-pastoral areas of eastern Tibet (see Table 11.1.1) where cultivation of land is also an important feature.

The highest density of yak are found in the eastern part of Tibet in the counties of Lhasa and Chamdo and surrounding areas (between 5 and 23 yak per sq km) while the lowest densities (less than 1 yak per sq km) are found in vast tracts of the north of Tibet and in a smaller area in the very Southeast.

In Nakchu, the prefecture with the largest number of yak, income from animal husbandry accounts for 80 percent of the GDP. The prefecture is vast, has a low animal and human population density and is diverse in terms of agro-ecozones, pasture types, livestock production systems and economic activities varying from east to west. In general, the yak husbandry in Nakchu is considered to be poor (Yang Xuqing, 2002). From Table 11.1.2, it can be seen that percentages of yak in the total livestock population decline with an increasing altitude and a decreasing annual rainfall from east to west in the prefecture. Huang Wenxiu (1996) suggested that the climatic variation was the reason for the varying livestock pattern across the prefecture with the west being cold and dry and with a semi-desert type of pasture where sheep and goats predominate (see Chapter 13). Yak in the eastern part also have the higher productivity as seen in Table 11.1.3 (Yang Xuqing, 2002).

The three recognized breeds in Tibet - the Pali, Sibu and Jiali (Alpine) - are found in the Shigatse, Lhasa and Nakchu prefectures, respectively (cf. Chapter 2). The Sibu are being associated with an agro-pastoral area and the Jiali and Pali are almost exclusively pastoral.

Table 11.1.1 Number (thousands) of yak and yak hybrids and other livestock in the prefectures of Tibet in 1999 [Source: Tibetan Bureau of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, 1999]












1 172.9








3 016.7

1 518.9




















1 444.5



4 028.1

1 253.6







1 253.5

1 042.9












3 915.7


1 206.5

11 065.4

5 725.2



* Donkey and mule are included.

Table 11.1.2 Climate and yak distribution in Nakchu prefecture in 1999 [Source: adapted from Yang Xuqing, 2002]


Average altitude (metres)

Average annual temperature (ºC)

Average annual rainfall (mm)

Total livestock ('000)

Yak ('000)

Percentage of yak in total livestock


4 300



1 250




4 600



2 482




4 700



3 179



Table 11.1.3 Performance attributes of yak in Nakchu in 1999 [Source: adapted from Yang Xuqing, 2002]


Reproductive rate (%)

Marketing rate (%)*

Average individual meat yield (kg)

Average individual milk yield (kg)

Average individual undercoat yield (kg)



















* Surplus stock available for sale.

Yak herd structure

Wei Xuecheng (1994) estimated herd structure of Tibetan yak to be 1.8 percent breeding bulls, 35.3 percent reproductive females, 28.6 percent castrated males and 34.3 percent calves.

More recent data show that herd structure varies somewhat among the three breeds as shown in Table 11.1.4. The Pali breed has the highest proportion of females, particularly in the productively important older age groups (four years old and older). The relatively large proportion of mature males retained in the Sibu breed is because a significant number, which are castrated, are used for draft purposes in that part of Tibet.

Table 11.1.4 Herd structure of the three yak breeds in Tibet in 1997-1998 [Source: adapted from Ji Qiumei et al., 2002a]

Breed No.

Percentage of

total yak

1 year

2 years

3 years

4 years

>5 years























































Because of the importance of cultivation in the territory of the Sibu yak breed, it is also associated there with a larger variety of other livestock species than is the case for the other two Tibetan yak breeds. These other species also compete for resources. Ji Qiumei et al. (2002a) argued that to improve productivity not only of the yak but from animal husbandry in general, a key issue is to optimize both species and herd structures. They point out, in particular, the competition for grazing resources from horses that are no longer used for transport but remain as an indulgence, and the presence of too many goats with poor cashmere production, especially in the Sibu and Pali yak producing areas. Thus, yak production cannot be considered in isolation from other factors.

Hybrids of yak with local Tibetan cattle are produced in the Jiali and Sibu yak areas but not in the more remote areas of the Pali yak.


Milk production

Peak milk production in the Tibetan yak is in August (Dou Yaozun, 1990). On this basis, five-day milk yield of the three breeds, herded on natural pastures, were recorded in August and used to estimate the milk yield from May to October by Ji Qiumei et al. (2000), as shown in Table 11.1.5. The estimates suggest that the three breeds differ in milk yield; but although all were at pasture, they are kept in different parts of Tibet. Breed and environment are therefore confounded. For the same reason, it is uncertain what conclusions to draw from the fact that these yields are lower than those normally quoted for the Tianzhu White and the Jiulong breeds in other parts of China. The milk composition figures for these breeds are shown in Table 6.2 (where it may also be noted that the estimates of milk yield given for the Jiali breed based on older data [Zhang 1989] are lower than those shown in Table 11.1.5 - unfortunately, reasons for the difference cannot be adduced from the publications).

Table 11.1.5 Estimated total and monthly milk yield of the three yak breeds* in Tibet in 1997-1998 [Source: adapted from Ji Qiumei et al., 2000 and 2002a]


Milking method


Total (kg)

Monthly yield (kg)








Full milking









Half milking


















Full milking









Half milking


















Full milking









Half milking

















* Three breeds are kept in different areas of Tibet.

Meat production

Ji Qiumei et al. (2002a) provided some recent results on body dimension of yak in Tibet that they believe show a decline in the performance relative to earlier years, particularly of the Sibu yak (although, because of relatively small numbers involved, the possibility of sampling errors affecting the comparison cannot be ignored). As possible causes for a decline, the authors point to additional pressure put on grazing by "unconfined" yak derived from a Tibetan cultural practice of releasing a small proportion of animals (up to 5 percent in some areas), quite apart from generally suboptimal grazing practices. To improve matters they suggest the need for supplementary feeding, especially in winter, a reduction in the proportion of unproductive animals in the herd, males especially, and attention to selection of breeding stock, as well some "social" measures. However, if a decline in productive performance of yak in Tibet over the past 20 years is real, it could well point to a systematic deterioration in the pastures and their use - in line with the view elaborated in Chapter 13. (Yang Xuqing, 2002) also reported a lower production of meat, milk and down hair from the yak in Nakchu prefecture in 1999 compared to 1991 (discreet years not being ideal for showing time trends), but the reproductive rate increased between these two years (see the following section, Reproductive performance.) Without further information, it is not possible to conclude whether the decrease in individual yak performance might have been due to increased stocking on the same grazing resources or whether that in turn led to deterioration of the pastures, as argued in Chapter 13.

Ji Qiumei et al. (2002b) examined five animals of the Jiali and six of each of the other two breeds for carcass characteristics. The results suggest that Jiali yak may have a higher dressing percentage - and hence meat yield - than the Sibu, but more studies will be needed to indicate whether the differences found are significant. The study does, however, provide some useful information on several carcass characteristics of yak and some other compositional data.

Hair and undercoat yield

Ji Qiumei et al. (2001) reported the results of hair and undercoat production from a survey of Tibetan yak in 1997-1998. Jiali yak had the best yield among the three breeds of the most valuable component of the fibre - the undercoat - with an average of 0.6 kg per adult animal.

Reproductive performance

The reproductive patterns of the yak in Tibet are as described in general terms in Chapter 5. According to Ji Qiumei et al. (2002a), there were no substantial differences among the three breeds of yak in Tibet in either female or male reproductive performance. As might be expected of a breed in an agro-pastoral area, the females of Sibu breed tended to show first oestrus and be mated perhaps a year earlier than the others. In general, females calve once in every two years, and the twinning rate is only 1 - 2 percent. The calving rates by natural service are shown as 30.8 percent, 48.4 percent and 45.7 percent of the cows mated every year for the Jiali, Pali and Sibu yak, respectively. There is a tendency to keep bulls to an old age beyond their reproductively best performance. But because these bulls keep their dominant ranks in the herds, this custom both lowers calving rates and unnecessarily increases pressure on the grazing by keeping unproductive males.

In contrast to the decline in meat, milk and fibre yield from yak in Nakchu, Yang Xuqing (2002) also reported that reproductive rate in 1999 was greater than in 1991. The proportion of breeding females in the population increased from 32 percent in 1991 to 45 percent in 1999 and the percentage of cows with a live calf at six months, among those mated, rose from 47 to 57 percent.

Wei Xuecheng (1994), Bhu Chong (1998) and Wang Wenpei (2002) reviewed the progress on the research on yak in Tibet. Recent research has centred firstly on basic studies of the ecology of the region and the biology and physiology of yak. Secondly, surveys have been conducted to better understand the available resources of land and livestock. Thirdly, breeding programmes have been further developed and fourthly, the commercialization of livestock production has been promoted so as to increase the economic profitability.

Attention can be drawn to two specific programmes that are of particular relevance to Tibet and yak production. One concerns a project at Dangxiong Yak Research Centre involved with the taming of semi-wild yak for semen collection and the concomitant freezing and use of this semen in A.I. (Zhang Yun, 1994, 1997 and 2002), particularly at the high elevations of the Nakchu prefecture (Tashi Dorji, 2002). The second is involves a selection and breeding programme for the establishment of two nucleus herds - one for the Pali breed and the other for the Sibu breed - on the Linzhou Farm (Yan Yonghong, 1994; Yun Den, 2002). The farm now has 605 breeding animals in the two herds. By 1999 the farm had supplied 580 top yak bulls for use in various parts of Tibet. In Linzhou county itself there were 32 260 improved yak - approaching half the yak population of the county. Records show that these improved yak were more than 50 percent heavier than local yak at equivalent ages. Milk yield was about a third better than that of the local (unimproved) yak, which accounted for 42.8 percent of the total yak population in the county. These results are taken as pointers to the improvements possible if such breeding programmes were developed more widely. The research activities on yak in Tibet are led by scientists of the Tibetan Livestock Research Institute of Tibetan Academy of Agricultural and Animal Sciences (TAAAS).

Tibet is one of the few remaining areas in China where wild yak are still extant - in particular in the Changtang region in the north of the country. Information about the wild yak can be found in Chapter 3.

Qinghai province

Qinghai, located between 31o39' and 39o19'N and between 89o35' and 103o04'E, covers an area of 722 000 sq km and is 1 200 km from east to west and 800 km from north to south. Like Tibet, it is one of the large pastoral areas in China. The province is situated on the northeastern part of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau in northwestern China and bordering other yak territories in Tibet, Sichuan and Gansu. The average elevation of Qinghai province is 4 000 m a.s.l. but 80 percent of the land area lies between 3 000 m and 6 800 m. The annual average temperature is 3.7o - 6oC and rainfall 300 mm. There are seven administrative prefectures (Haidong, Hainan, Haibei, Huangnan, Yushu and Guoluo Tibetan autonomous prefectures and Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan autonomous prefecture) and the Xining city municipality. The human population was 5.1 million in 1999.

The main rangelands are located in the vicinity of Qinghai Lake. They cover an area of approximately 36.5 million ha - China's fourth most extensive rangeland area. About 87 percent of this rangeland is usable. The rangelands are of the alpine meadow vegetation type but can be classified into many rangeland types, groups, and subtypes (Liu Yingchun and Zhou Qingping, 2002; see also Chapter 13). Among the 16 rangeland types, alpine meadow at an altitude of 2 800 m - 4 200 m is the most extensive formation (29.6 million ha) and about 84 percent is usable by livestock.

Yak are found in nearly all counties of Qinghai province. Some hybridizing with local cattle is also practised, but not widely. For a long time Qinghai had the largest yak population among the provinces of China. For example, in 1981, there were an estimated 4 787 000 yak representing more than 95 percent of all the bovines in the province (6.65 heads per sq km). The proportion of yak in the total bovine population had remained roughly constant over many the years (Zhang Rongchang, 1989). However, as noted in Table 11.1.6, numbers started to fall after 1996 but more so in some prefectures than in others.

Liu Zubo et al. (1989) divided the distribution of yak in Qinghai into three ecological areas. The first of these with more than three quarters of all the yak in Qinghai consists of cold and highland pastures along the Qilian mountains, Kunlun mountains and with the Tanggula mountains at its southwestern end at altitudes above 3 500 m, average annual temperatures below 0oC and a seven-month long cold season with relatively low air pressure and high humidity. This area extends across Yushu and Guoluo and parts of Huangnan, Haixi and Haibei. The Plateau yak is found in this region. A second area is of a transitional agricultural type in the vicinity of Qinghai Lake with altitudes between 2 600 m and 3 500 m, and a mean annual temperature between 0.1o and 5.1oC.

Table 11.1.6 Yak numbers (thousands) in seven main yak-raising prefectures of Qinghai province Source: adapted from Long Ruijun and Ma Yushou, 1996; Qinghai Animal Husbandry Bureau, 1999, 2000]











1 502.0

1 544.4

1 585.7

1 494.7

1 461.3

1 396.5




1 183.5

1 224.3

1 243.6

1 200.3

1 238.3

1 224.5

1 092.2

1 078.5















































4 782.3

5 001.2

5 064.1

4 767.4

5 050.7

4 817.9

3 773.6

3 635.2

* The totals are for the seven main prefectures only, in addition there are small numbers in other prefectures (the overall total for the year 2000 is 3.716 million; see Chapter 1).

It includes a small part of southern Haibei and most of Hainan and southern Haixi with 12.7 percent of the yak in Qinghai. The breed of yak here includes the Huanhu yak.

The third area in this classification is the agricultural area with altitudes between 1 600 m and 2 800 m and mean annual temperatures between 2.7o and 8.7oC. It comprises the vicinity of Xining, most of Haidong and a small part of southern Haibei, eastern Hainan and northern Huangnan where another 11.6 percent of the yak in Qinghai are raised (cf. Table 11.1.6).

A question of concern is why yak numbers in Qinghai should have declined in recent years in a territory where yak are the predominant bovine and its importance to the economy is paramount. Long Ruijun and Ma Yushou (1996) have shown that there were some changes in aspects of performance and output between 1991 and 1995, suggesting a decline over the years. These authors attributed this to earlier overstocking and a deterioration of the grazings. They use as an example Maduo county of Guoluo prefecture, which is near the source of the Yellow River (average altitude of 4 200 m). The 2.3 million ha of alpine meadow pastures account for 88 percent of the total area in that county, and animal husbandry is the basic industry.

Encouragement during the 1970s and 1980s to improve standards of living by "converting" more of the grasslands into animal products led to an explosive increase in stock numbers. This then led to marked overgrazing and subsequent deterioration and even desertification of many of the pastures (cf. Chapter 13). This, in turn, forced a large reduction in stock numbers and almost half of the local herders lost their traditional pastures and livelihoods. The capacity of both livestock and people to withstand the periodic natural disasters of heavy snow or sand storms was thus also compromised. Unusually low winter and high summer temperatures, leading to severe drought in the latter part of the 1990s, and blamed by some on global warming, and the stresses placed on scarce water resources further exacerbated a difficult situation (Tao Baoxiang et al., 2000). Yet another factor that may have contributed to these problems is uncontrolled mining in this county (employing at one time 50 000 people).

A similar picture of increasing yak populations and a subsequent marked decline, forced by rangeland deterioration, can be demonstrated for the whole of Yushu prefecture and in turn suggests a reason for the recent decline of the yak production in Qinghai from its former foremost position in China.

There has been significant research effort related to yak in Qinghai since 1990. It is led by staff of the Qinghai Academy of Animal and Veterinary Sciences and the Lanzhou Institute of Animal and Veterinary Pharmaceutical Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences, as well as by staff of the Qinghai General Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Station and the Datong Yak Farm. Effort has gone into crossing domestic yak cows with wild and semi-wild yak bulls by both A.I. and natural mating, with claims of significant genetic improvement (cf. Chapter 5) (Yang Rongzhen, 1997, 1998; Yang Rongzhen et al., 1997; Li Jiye et al., 1998; Yan Shoudong, 1998, 2002).

There are many studies on yak nutrition at the Qinghai Academy (e.g. Hu Linghao, 1994; Hu Linghao et al., 1997, 2002; Han Xingtai et al., 1994a, b, 1997a, b, 2002) and significant work on animal physiology, management, health and disease, particularly in relation to parasite control (as shown in the proceedings of successive international yak congresses).

Sichuan province

There are more than four million yak and yak hybrids in the western and northern parts of Sichuan located between 26o03' and 34o19'N and between 97o21' and 110o12'E, currently the largest yak-raising province in China (cf. Chapter 1). The province borders on Tibet and Qinghai to the west, to Yunnan in the south and Gansu in the north. Unlike the other major yak-raising provinces, Tibet and Qinghai in particular, the eastern side of Sichuan province, especially in the Chengdu basin, boasts vast areas of agricultural and horticultural production, including fruit growing, and was regarded, in the past, as the granary of China. Some of the oldest and largest irrigation schemes in the world (dating back to the third century B.C.) capturing the flow of the Min River and extensive terracing ("the land of a million steps") ensure this production. Extensive timber production on the borders with Yunnan province and industrial production also help to make this a rich province.

Yak, in western parts of Sichuan, are found in all counties in Ganzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture (approximately 28o - 34oN, 98o - 102oE) and in Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture (30o35' - 34o19'N, 103o30' - 104o37'E) in the northeastern end of western Sichuan and most of counties in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in the southern part of western Sichuan. As one of the five largest pastoral areas in China, there are about 20 million ha of highland pastures. Yak contribute 50 percent of the total beef production (52 000 tonnes of meat annually) and 70 percent of the total milk production (180 000 tonnes annually) in Sichuan (Lin Xiaowei and Zhong Guanghui, 1998), much of it from Ganzi and Aba (Zhong Jingcheng and Chen Zhihua, 1998). The Jiulong breed of yak is found in Ganzi and the Maiwa breed in Aba (cf. Chapter 2). The largest concentration of yak is in the most western and northern parts of the yak territory of Sichuan.

Liu Zubo et al. (1989) categorized the yak in Sichuan into three areas: the main pastoral area on north-western plateau where 80 percent of all the yak are found among 12 counties (with between 100 000 and 400 000 yak each); a transitional agricultural area in central western Sichuan where 18 percent of yak are kept spread among 16 counties; and the mountainous agro-area in southwestern Sichuan where yak are found isolated in 18 counties, with about 2 percent of the total yak in the province.

The two most important prefectures for yak in Sichuan are Ganzi, with about 56 percent of the total yak of the province and Aba with about 42 percent. About 20 years or so ago, the yak population of Ganzi accounted for 61 percent of the total; since then, numbers have increased more in Aba than in Ganzi, most likely because of a better access to markets for yak products in Aba (Cai Li, 1989; Zhong Jingcheng and Cheng Zhihua, 1998). Some more detail is warranted for these two prefectures.

The numbers in Ganzi are shown in Table 11.1.7 and indicate both the large increase over the years of the yak population in particular.

Ganzi lies in western Sichuan on the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. The topography is diverse with an average elevation of 3 500 m but higher in the northwest than the southeast. The plateau region is interspersed with several huge mountains and rivers. Annual rainfall ranges from 500 to 800 mm (falling mostly in the warm season between May and October) but declines from southeast to northwest with increasing altitude. The diverse nature of the land across its 153 000 sq km leads to a diversity of climates, from cold high mountain zones to subtropical valleys. The Jiulong breed of yak (see Chapter 2) finds its home in the core area of Ganzi, the cold mountainous counties of Jiulong and Kangding where it was known as a Yak country as long ago as the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.).

Table 11.1.7 Number of yak and other livestock in the Ganzi prefecture (thousands) [Source: adapted from Zhao Yonghua, 2000]


Total livestock

Yak and hybrids






2 577.8

1 326.0






3 380.5

1 442.7






4 559.1

1 970.7


1 242.5




4 576.6

2 111.1


1 070.0




4 542.3

2 212.3






4 605.1

2 284.8






4 632.1

2 286.8





The human population of Ganzi was about 852 000 people of 25 nationalities in 1995, with Tibetans comprising around 78 percent of them. Livestock is the principal means of livelihood of the people, but there is an area of cultivated land with crops - 7 000 ha relatively small compared to the 140 000 ha of grazing land, some of the grazing land being fenced. Ganzi has its own Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Institute where selection and breeding of the Jiulong yak has been a key programme for the past 40 years (Ding Xiaotao, 2000).

Aba prefecture covers little more than half the area of Ganzi but has nearly the same human population, 60 percent of whom are Tibetan or Qiang. In general, the northwest of Aba consists of mountains and a high plateau with an average altitude of 3 500 - 4 000m and a cold climate. The southeast of Aba has high mountains interspersed with deep valleys - a difference from top to bottom of 5 430 m - leading to a diversity of climatic conditions.

In 1997 there were 1.376 million pure yak and 329 000 hybrids in Aba with reproductive females accounting for just under 38 percent - better than in some areas but still short of an optimum herd structure (see Chapter 8). With an increase in the yak population and a larger number of yak marketed, there has been an increase in output over recent years (milk, meat, fibre, skin) but also noted has been a reduction in individual carcass weights of animals slaughtered. This was attributed largely to uncontrolled use of unselected and poor breeding bulls, none of which met standards that had been officially laid down (Zuo Xuemin and Jian Shanglin, 1998).

To address the perceived inadequacies of the breeding, 20 breeding herds with 1 200 breeding females of the Maiwa breed of yak were established in four counties in Aba in 1988. Subsequently, 120 selected breeding bulls were produced annually, for a time, for use in local herds.

However, the breeding herds were not maintained so the scheme represents a false start. Yet, because of the great importance attached to improvement of the yak in Aba, and of the Maiwa breed in particular, new plans are being developed (Zuo Xuemin and Jian Shanglin, 1998) and are said to be in the process of being enacted.

One of the problems encountered in Aba is that a number of natural winter disasters affected sheep and goats more than they did the yak. The increase in the yak population was thus partly at the expense of sheep and goats. Consequently the utilization of the pastures is now considered to be suboptimal (Zhong Jingcheng and Chen Zhihau, 1998).

Hybridizing of Maiwa yak by A.I. with the semen of the Holstein Friesian, Simmental, Shorthorn, Hereford and Charolais breeds has been extensively practiced in Aba since 1978, aided by a subsidy payment for the insemination service up to 1992 and much promoted by Cai Li and his colleagues. However, there is a continuing, market-driven demand for milk, and this is leading to a continuing use of hybridization in spite of the fact that herders now need to pay for the insemination services.

Pu Jiabi et al. (1997) reviewed research and development activities on yak with particular emphasis on work at the Sichuan Yak Development Institute. Zhong Guanghui (1998), in turn, reviewed the extensive research activities on yak undertaken by the scientists of the Animal Science Department of the Southwest University for Nationalities, which has its campus in Chengdu. The department has a history of yak research (it was the base for the work of the late Professor Cai Li, originator of this book) and along with other departments of the university is charged with the training of students of minority nationalities, which include those involved in work in the yak territories.

Gansu province

Gansu, located between 32o31'and 42o49'N and between 92o45' and 108o46'E, is the fifth largest of the pastoral areas of China with about 9 million ha of usable pastures and about 900 000 yak (in 1997). The province is situated at the northern end of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau and borders on Qinghai province to the south and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to the north - Gansu is flanked in the north by the western stretches of the Great Wall of China. Agriculture sustains 19.3 percent of the GDP in Gansu, and livestock production is its major component by contributing about 28.8 percent to the GDP from the agricultural sector in 2001. However, mining for ten main-coloured metals, including lead and zinc, and other heavy industry are of significance in the province.

Yak in Gansu, totalling around 900 000, are concentrated in two regions: Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture in southwest Gansu, home to the Gannan yak, and the Qilian mountain area in west-central Gansu where the Tianzhu White yak are raised - more detail is given in Chapter 2. The altitude of these regions varies from 1 400 to 4 700 m and the average annual temperature is just above freezing (1.2oC). But the lowest recorded temperature was -29.6oC. At the present time only a relatively small amount of hybridizing occurs of yak with local cattle.

Nearly half the population of 530 000 people of Gannan is Tibetan, and about half of these are pastoralists. Based on records of 1999, animal husbandry accounted for more than 60 percent of the GDP from the agricultural sector. Gannan, with 2.7 million ha of highland pastures, has more than 80 percent of all yak in Gansu province. Yak numbers have remained relatively stable over the period from 1981to 1995 (the last available) in each of the seven counties of Gannan (Han Jianlin and Zhang Rongchang, 1996).

The remaining yak in the Qilian mountains are in the Tianzhu Tibetan autonomous county (numerically the most important with about 80 000 yak) and some neighbouring districts. The Qilian mountains average between 4 000 m and 5 000 in altitude and have an average annual temperature of 0oC. The ancient Silk Route passed through from the east and a national nature reserve was established in the late 1980s to protect forestry, a water catchment area and wildlife.

Particular aspects of breeding and research on the Tianzhu White breed have been referred to in Chapter 2 and the special properties of this breed have attracted both interest and funding for conservation projects for the past ten years from provincial and national governments in China.

Gansu Agricultural University, located near Lanzhou, the capital of the province, is an active centre of research in matters related to yak, including studies of anatomy, reproductive physiology, genetics, breeding and nutrition. A department of grassland sciences is concerned with aspects of range management. The university also houses the International Yak Information Centre (IYIC) for the documentation and dissemination of published literature on the yak. In addition, the Lanzhou Institute of Animal and Veterinary Pharmaceutical Sciences of Chinese, Academy of Agriculture Sciences has been involved for 20 years in initiatives to tame and use wild yak. It has played a key role in developing the improved yak breed from crossing domestic with wild yak, the Datong yak, on the Datong Yak Farm in Qinghai, described in some detail in Chapter 2. Another centre of importance for pastoral livestock production, because of its contribution to the understanding of grasslands and grassland ecology, is the Gansu Grassland Ecology Research Institute based in Lanzhou.

Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region

Xinjiang (also Sinkiang) is situated at the northwestern corner of China with a total population of around 17 million of many different ethnic groups. It is a vast and remote area with no less than 48 million ha of grasslands (14.5 percent of all the usable pastures in China) and 45 million livestock in the year 2000. The autonomous region is bordered by Mongolia to the northeast, Russia to the north, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and parts of Jammu and Kashmir on western sides, Tibet to the southeast and Qinghai and Gansu provinces to the east. It is China's single largest political unit. Massive mountain ranges almost enclose it on three sides - the Tianshan mountains to the north and the Kunlun mountains to the south being the highest. The main crops are cotton in southern and eastern Xinjiang, particularly in the southern Turpan Basin. Wheat is grown in northern and southwestern Xinjiang, sugar beet in northern Xinjiang and rice in northwestern and some central parts of Xinjiang. In addition, soybean, grape, hop, sunflower, peanut, apple and pear are also very important cash crops produced in various parts of Xinjiang. In recent years the cotton, oil and natural gas industries are becoming the most important economic resources in Xinjiang.

About 7 million ha of the total grasslands, at average elevations of 2 500 - 5 500 m, are said to be suitable for yak husbandry but even here the density of yak is low with only about 230 000 yak in total. Numbers have increased slowly over the years (e.g. 172 000 in 1987) but have not reached the claimed potential of a million yak (Fang Guangxin and Liu Wujun, 1998). The yak, named "tank on the plateau" by the local herders in Xinjiang, are found in some numbers all over the province but chiefly in the Bayingolin Mongolian autonomous prefecture - home to the Bazhou yak - and in the Kyrgyz prefecture, both in the southern parts of Xinjiang alongside the Kunlun range and Altay mountains. Other, smaller concentrations of yak are found in the southern Tianshan mountains.

Wild yak are still claimed to live in the Altay and Kunlun mountains, and there is some concern in Xinjiang for their conservation in the face of the wild yak being hunted, here as elsewhere, for food by both miners working in Xinjiang and by local herders (Luo Ning et al., 1996).

An initial introduction of yak from Tibet to the Bayingolin region of Xinjiang took place early in nineteenth century, which formed the foundation herd of the Bazhou yak. Frozen semen of the wild yak and breeding animals of semi-wild yak from the Datong Yak Farm were brought to the area in 1981 - 1983 for purposes of improving the local yak. The Tianzhu White yak were also imported in 1989 to counteract perceived negative effects of inbreeding and for further genetic improvement (Turshen Abudula et al., 2002). According to Turshen Abudula et al. (2002), the F1 crosses between Bazhou and Tianzhou White yak achieved better growth than the local yak.

Concern for continuing development of all aspects of yak husbandry and marketing in the province and the training of workers arose from a consultative meeting in 1995 and is the in process of implementation (Fang Guangxin and Liu Wujun, 1998).

Yunnan province

Yunnan is one of the largest provinces of China bounded by Tibet and Sichuan to the north and Lao PDR, Vietnam and Burma to the south and southeast. There were some 50 000 yak in northern Yunnan, mainly in counties of the Diqing Tibetan autonomous prefecture. This is the home of the Zhongdian yak, one of the most ancient and respected of the yak races. Even yak herders from Tibet and Sichuan were said to seek out these yak (Liu Zubo et al., 1989). Possibly because of the relative remoteness of yak in Yunnan and the small contribution of yak to the overall economy of the province there is little recent published information on yak from the area, or on the Zhongdian yak - even the estimate of numbers dates back to 1980 - as noted by Xu Guifang and Wang Zhigang (1998).

The major part of the economy of Yunnan relies on the mining and export of a wide range of minerals including tin (the province has one of the world's largest deposits) and copper as well as a host of more precious minerals and other materials including coal, iron and marble.


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[5] Han Jianlin is a molecular geneticist at the International Livestock Research Institute, Kenya. He is also Professor of Animal Genetics and Breeding, Gansu Agricultural University, China and Executive Secretary of the International Yak Information Center and China Yak Breed Association in Lanzhou, China

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