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Yak keeping in Western High Asia: Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Southern Xinjiang Pakistan, by Hermann Kreutzmann[12]

The borderlands of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Xinjiang (China) belong to a contiguous region dominated by high mountain ranges. The eastern Pamir mountains, eastern Hindukush, Karakoram, the west Kun Lun Shan mountains and the western Himalayas meet in this region and provide substantial grazing grounds at high elevations. The ecology and orography of Western High Asia are characterized by enormous levels of glaciation at high altitudes in contrast to extremely arid valley systems. Wherever groundwater is close and/or fountains/springs available extensive pasture areas are found in flat bottomed upper valleys. While artemisia steppe reaches up to levels of 3 800 m, the fertile pastures of Western High Asia are to be found at higher elevations. Already in the thirteenth century, Marco Polo mentioned the fertile pastures and the top quality meat produced there. He highlighted the special feature of "pamir", which resembles a wide valley covered by grass and valuable fodder plants (cf. Kreutzmann, 2000b). These pastures were desired by nomads and mountain farmers who competed for their seasonal use during summers. Kirghiz nomads and Wakhi mountain farmers are the prominent groups who grazed their flocks on the high pastures of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Xinjiang. Wakhi farmers are found in the eastern Hindukush and Karakoram of Pakistan, while Balti and Astori people are herders in the eastern Karakoram and western Himalaya. In Chitral, there are Kho mountain farmers and Gujur pastoralists.

The type of yak kept in this area closely resembles the yak of neighbouring China. The colour patterns range from black to white with grey shades in between. The frugal conditions - especially during winter - result in heavy weight losses as winter feeding is a rare exception. The summer season in rich and fertile pastures enables the yak to gain substantial weight. This cycle of storing energy during summer for the harsh winter conditions applies to all animals in the herds of pastoralists and farmers and is thus similar to the situation in the main yak-rearing areas of China.

The yak provides their owners with products mainly for home consumption. Milk is used for household needs if sheep milk is not sufficiently available for the preparation of the saltish milk tea accompanying each meal. Surplus milk is converted into yoghurt from which a small quantity is consumed by the household. The top layer of cream (merik) is removed for direct consumption or, in cases of huge quantities the cream, is converted into butter as is traditionally done by Kirghiz nomads. The remainder of the yoghurt can be converted into fresh butter as well. Some people dehydrate the fresh butter (maska) through heating and create durable butter fat (ghee, rughun) by this process. The surplus butter milk is partly consumed by the household; the bulk is boiled down in a huge pot, and a viscous substance emerges after more than a day of boiling. It is then formed into little cakes and finally dried in the sun on a special platform out of reach of any animal. After some days, hard blocks of this protein cake (qurut) reach the required state of dehydration so that they can easily be stored for consumption in winter (cf. for milk-processing, Kreutzmann 2000a, p. 99). The qurut is known from Iran to the Tibetan Plateau as a sour substance that is used in food preparation especially for soups. Thus, nothing is wasted from the sometimes-large quantities of milk.

All the tasks - beginning from milking to processing it into a variety of consumable products - fall into the female domain. In some societies, as in the Wakhi communities, this is related to the traditional obligation of women to spend the summers in the high pastures. Men support the women during the movement of herds from the homestead to the pasture, from stage to stage, and on the way back to the winter settlement. While herding the flocks and milk processing falls to the women folk, men are responsible for cutting and processing the yak hair, as well as for slaughtering. Some family members and especially children accompany the women to the pastures. Exceptions to this general rule are manifold. Where the household configuration is unfavourable, older household members take up responsibilities, or relatives are involved in a system of share-herding or taking turns.

The utilization of yak dung is different in nomadic and farming societies. Combined mountain farming, i.e. the combination of crop raising and livestock keeping, resembles an interrelated production system in which the livestock provides animal manure for fertilizing fields. Where yak dung is accessible within a reasonable distance to cultivated land, the practice of fertilization is common. Nowadays, the transport of dung from remote high pastures to the fields in the permanent settlements is rare. In nomadic communities, yak dung is predominantly collected as fuel for fires, both for cooking and for heat, and stored near the houses or the yurt encampments.

Yak meat is consumed mainly within the households, while in recent years communities with market access have started to sell it to local butchers (e.g. in Hunza, Gorno-Badakhshan, Sarikol). At the end of the summer grazing season, when the animals are at their peak weight and cold conditions prevail, yak are traditionally slaughtered to fulfil the meat requirements for the winter. The meat is cut into thin pieces and dried.

Yak hair is utilized for different purposes. Ropes are made from it for all the needs in a pastoral environment. The majority of hair is made into threads of which coarse rugs (sherma) are made to cover the sleeping spaces in the yurt, or the house. Yak tails are used as dusters. These products rarely reach the markets. Overall it can be said that yak products are traditionally household-related and that other animals such as sheep and goats are kept for marketing and trading. In recent years, this pattern has been abridged and the yak and its products play a role in the transborder exchange of goods and for bartering.

Figure 11.2.7 Distribution of yak keeping in Western High Asia

In Western High Asia, yak keeping (Figure 11.2.7) forms one prominent section of animal husbandry in addition to keeping herds of sheep and goats in a much wider area. The regions in which yak keeping is practised are briefly introduced in the sections that follow, and the socio-economic context and recent changes are discussed. Table 11.2.18 gives the numbers of yak and yak hybrids in the various regions.


In the eastern Pamir, part of Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan district, Kirghiz herders, and a few Wakhi, keep yak herds nowadays around traditional supply stations like Murghab (formerly Pamirski Post) and Langar in Rajon Ishkashim. From there they undertake seasonal migrations to the summer pastures at higher elevations.

Under Soviet rule, Tajikistan's economy was completely integrated into the union system, with significant effects even on the remote mountain areas - as the case of Gorno-Badkhshan reveals. The Wakhi members of sowchos roi kommunizm in Rajon Ishkashim kept yak (in Tajik language: khashgau) in the upper parts of the Amu Darya valley and in Khargushi Pamir. The whole agricultural system was devoted to animal husbandry because all other food supplies were imported from outside. Even high-protein fodder (50 tonnes) was brought in to sustain a herd of 450 yak year round in the Pamirs. This was the sole case of extra feed in the area and strongly linked to Soviet breeding strategies developed for the Pamirs. Here, only male animal herders were employed in the high pastures. Basically, nomadism became regarded as mobile animal husbandry under the conditions of collective resource management and in the context of the prevalent socio-economic set-up.

Table 11.2.18 Yak populations and their distribution in Western High Asia*


Yak numbers

Yak hybrids

Area of distribution

Tajikistan: eastern Pamir

14 000

Gorno-Badakhshan: Murghab

Tajikistan: western Pamir


Gorno-Badakhshan: Ishkashim

Afghanistan: Hindukush

approx. 1 000


Afghanistan: Pamir

1 500

Little and Big Pamir

Pakistan: eastern Hindukush

1 000

1 220


Pakistan: eastern Hindukush/Karakoram

4 000

Ghizer: Gupis, Ishkoman, Yasin

Pakistan: Karakoram

> 1 500


Pakistan: Himalaya

4 000

< 20 000


Pakistan: Himalaya


5 500


Xinjiang: Taghdumbash Pamir

approx. 10 000

Taxkorgan county

* [Sources: Ehlers and Kreutzmann, 2000; Kreutzmann, 1986, 1996, 2000b; Longy and Gely, 2000, unpublished; Nazir Ahmad, 2000; Nüsser, 1999, 2000; Schmidt, 2000; Stöber, 2001; and personal communication with Clemens, Nüsser, Schmidt and Stöber, 2000.]

With the independence of Tajikistan and the related transformation of socio-economic structures, individual ownership of land (1996 - 1999) and cattle were re-introduced. Yak-herding is organized through the farmers' association; the herders keep 70 percent of the production while the rest belongs to the association. The Wakhi of Ishkashim are the only nonKirghiz yak herders of the western Pamir and still control a herd of 300 yak.

The Soviet state-run economy had selected the eastern Pamir as the prime yak-producing region and mainly Kirghiz pastoralists were involved. Nearly 14 000 yak now are kept in Rajon Murghab. The majority of yak herds continue to be controlled by State-run enterprises or farmers' associations that are the successor organizations of the kolchos and gozchos. The adverse economic conditions of the transformation period have impoverished the Kirghiz herdsmen because herds are small, food supplies meagre and additional food from the market is expensive. Basically, the majority of agriculturists in Gorno-Badakhshanskaya Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) are dependent on humanitarian aid at present.

The situation was aggravated by substantial losses of livestock in February - March 1999 when in Rajon Ishkashim alone, 5 000 head of livestock, including 300 yak, were lost to unexpectedly high snowfall. The socio-economic transformation has forced the majority of people to follow a subsistence strategy based on agricultural and livestock resources. The present income levels are far below previous ones, and it remains to be seen if this resource-based strategy will succeed.


Yak keeping in Afghanistan is restricted to the Badakhshan province, i.e. Zebak and Wakhan (including the Little and Big Pamir). No data are available for the Zebak region at present. The Pamir region of Wakhan is better known (cf. Dor, 1976, Shahrani, 1979) and has a long record of yak keeping. Pauperized Wakhi farmers utilizing the Pamirs for summer grazing have competed with rich Kirghiz nomads controlling most of these Pamirs. Impoverished Wakhi did take up jobs as animal herders for Kirghiz herd owners and turned eventually to nomadic strategies (Kreutzmann, 1996). The proportion of yak (Kirghiz language: kotoz) was about one tenth of the total livestock numbers within the community's herds of about 40 000 animals. The introduction of animal herding as a service - rich herd owners gave their animals to poor community members on a contract basis - had led to an increase in the number of animals in the Pamirs. The peak number of livestock was reached prior to the exodus in the aftermath of the Afghan Saur Revolution. In 1978, a group of 1 300 Kirghiz fled to Pakistan. They accounted for all 280 yurts, or household units, in the Afghan Pamirs. Not all members of the Kirghiz group of Rahman Kul joined him in eastern Anatolia after four years of exile in Pakistan. Rahman Kul alone had to leave behind 16 000 sheep and goats, more than 700 yak, 15 horses and 18 Bactrian camels - while the whole community of the Afghan Pamirs had possessed more than 40 000 animals, of which only a small herd of 6 000 had been taken to exile in Pakistan. Rahman Kul migrated with his group of 1 132 Kirghiz in August 1982 to Turkey. None of the livestock went with them.

A small group of 200 Kirghiz returned to the Little Pamir from Pakistan by October 1979 (Shahrani, 1984). The community under the leadership of Abdurrashid Khan grew to 102 yurts in Pamir-e Kalan (Great Pamir) and 135 yurts in Pamir-e Khurd (Little Pamir) by 1999. The number of yak varied at around 1 400 head, compared to nearly 9 000 sheep and goats, 160 horses and 90 Bactrian camels. All forms of animal husbandry have been limited to subsistence survival strategies in recent years, as traditional exchange lines have been interrupted due to adverse political conditions. Presently, the Kirghiz are engaged in yak breeding and in limited barter trade with entrepreneurs from neighbouring Hunza in Pakistan. The itinerant traders supply basic necessities in exchange for yak and yak products. Yak are not mated with other types of cattle by the Kirghiz nor the Wakhi.

Southern Xinjiang

a) Taghdumbash Pamir

The Taxkorgan or Sarikol (name of the former principality) area contains three different ethnic groups: Sariqoli, Wakhi and Kirghiz (here less than 5 percent of the population). The former two groups (82 percent of the inhabitants) follow a combined mountain agriculture composed of crop raising and animal husbandry with seasonal utilization of Pamir pastures, while the Kirghiz specialize solely in livestock. All three groups traditionally moved their flocks within the Taghdumbash Pamir and paid tribute to the Mir of Hunza who exercised control over these pastures until 1937 (Kreutzmann, 2000a). While Kirghiz lived at the higher elevations, Sariqoli approached from the northern low-lying villages. Only the Wakhi founded their settlement of Dafdar (3 400 m) in the heart of the Taghdumbash Pamir, about a century ago, with the consent of the Chinese authorities. All three groups compete for the fodder resources there.

After the Chinese Revolution in 1949 and the formation of the Tajik Taxkorgan autonomous county in 1954, collectivization took place and rural communes were established in the villages. The basic infrastructural assets, such as school, police, mail, health post, barefoot doctor, commune administration, shops, mosque, etc. have been provided to all communities in the Taghdumbash Pamir.

In post-revolutionary times, the number of livestock increased by a factor of 4.75, to 128 800 head in 1984. During the following decade, the growth slowed down, and in 1994 the number of livestock was reported in the census at 147 586. This figure covers all stocks of Bactrian camels, horses, donkeys, yak, other cattle, sheep and goats. Natural grazing provides the most important local resource utilized through animal husbandry: The area covered by grasslands extends to 6.09 million mu, of which 97.6 percent belong to natural grazing, while 0.13 million mu are irrigated meadows (1 mu equals 0.067 ha; Table 11.2.19). More than two thirds of the economic turnover of Taxkorgan county derives from animal husbandry. In 1984, for example, animal products grossed 2.75 million yuan, compared to 1.18 million yuan from crop raising (Kashgar Prefecture Chronicle, 1985). The situation has not changed much recently and underlines the economic importance of livestock husbandry in the Pamirs.

In the heart of the Taghdumbash Pamir, a veterinary station specializing in yak breeding was established in Mazar (south of Dafdar along the Pakistan-China Friendship Highway) by utilizing the local knowledge of Tajik and Kirghiz animal herders who found employment there. About 400 persons reside at Mazar breeding farm, which has about 5 000 sheep and 500 yak (Schaller et al., 1987). Much larger herds of yak are kept by the Wakhi and Kirghiz of the Karachukur Valley, which drains the western-most part of the Taghdumbash Pamir. This side valley has become the only Kirghiz-dominated pasture region of the Taxkorgan county. The number of yak grew from 5 909 in 1981 to 8 147 in 1990, the highest figure since 1976. The trading and export value of yak has been limited. Only rarely were small consignments of yak exported to the neighbouring Hunza valley in Pakistan. In recent years this transborder trade has ceased to exist. The products of milk, butter, qurut, hair and meat, are mainly utilized for local purposes. Additionally, the transport capabilities and frugality of yak are regarded as major assets of the animals in the Chinese Pamirs. No hybridization is practised here.

Table 11.2.19 Potential fodder availability of pastures in the Pamir regions*


Total area

Grazing area

Available grazing potential




To be utilized

Not to be utilized








Western Pamir

2 468 700

1 113 390


40 990


141 260


181 250


249 200

146 030


2 630


12 120


14 750

Eastern Pamir

2 839 700

1 099 900


61 400


74 400


135 800

Pamir (total area)

5 308 400

2 213 290


102 390


215 660


317 050

Sarikol (Taxkorgan)

5 038 250

374 313


555 370

* [Source: Walter and Breckle (1986) and data provided by the county administration Taxkorgan 1991, 1998]

b) Western Kun Lun Shan: Muztagh Ata and Kongur regions

The Kirghiz of Kizil Su traditionally followed a long-distance nomadic migration cycle between the summer grazing grounds in the Pamirs and the irrigated oases of the mountain forelands. They spent the winter occupied with herding and various other businesses in the towns of Kashgar and Yarkand. This pattern has been abridged in the last 50 years. Nowadays, the Kirghiz nomads are confined with their herds to the Pamir regions year round. Only for marketing purposes do they leave their mountain abodes and travel on foot with their flocks, or on the back of trucks, down to the Sunday markets of Kashgar and/or Yarkand. Thus, the sheep and goats cover the distance of 280 km easily and without great loss of weight. Only rarely are some yak also marketed.

The pasture system has been adjusted to changed frame conditions. On average, the herds of the Kara Köl Kirghiz consist of between one and two horses and a similar number of donkeys and between two and three Bactrian camels. These animals are preferred for transportation and travelling purposes. The additional livestock amount to about 12 yak, 98 sheep and 40 goats (Kreutzmann, 1995). These numbers represent more than a tripling of the large livestock and a doubling of sheep and goats over the past 20 years. In 1976, the peoples' commune of Subashi (Karakul) owned a total number of livestock of about 10 300 animals (Myrdal, 1979). In addition to State ownership of flocks, private property rights for a limited number of animals had been assured for the nomads. The carrying capacity of accessible pastures was estimated at 40 000 animals; by 1991 the number exceeded 30 000. By comparison with the overall livestock development in Aqto division, where livestock numbers grew by a factor of 1.3 from 1976 to 1991 and cattle numbers (including yak) by 1.65, the growth in Kara Köl is out of proportion (Aqto Täzkirisi 1994). In the remote, high-altitude yak and sheep-breeding area the livestock numbers grew three times faster. In this area, relaxed attitudes of the Chinese authorities toward agricultural and livestock production have led to an increased market orientation - especially since the reforms of 1978. The quality of pastures was improved by irrigation and fencing of meadows. Grass is cut by scythe and winter fodder is stored to cover the long period of meagre natural grazing in the winter settlement (kishlok) of Subashi at an altitude of 3 600 m.

Administratively, the Kara Köl grazing zone forms part of the Aqto division, which is one of the four subunits of the Kizil Su Autonomous Oblast where the majority of China's 119 300 Kirghiz reside (data of 1994). The majority of the Kirghiz of Kizil Su has become sedentary agriculturists, while the inhabitants of the higher Pamirs continue to follow mobile livestock husbandry exclusively. The kishlok of Subashi is equipped, like other communes, with infrastructure institutions as mentioned above and with a veterinary post controlling the quality and health status of animals. The "survival" conditions of the harsh environment disguise the fact that the animals raised in these productive pastures compete very well in the profitable markets of the urban oases along the southern silk route (Tarim basin).


Yak breeding in Pakistan can be found in the upper valleys of mountain ranges from the Hindukush to the Himalayas (Figure 11.2.5). Only mountain farmers dwelling at the upper limit of settlements are engaged in yak breeding. They have augmented their flocks by keeping yak in addition to other livestock. One major distinction has to be made between the different yak-breeding areas in northern Pakistan: The western part is dominated by herds where hybridization is not done while in the East, and particularly in Baltistan and the Nanga Parbat region, hybridization is practised. Some exceptions occur in the eastern Hindukush as well. As long ago as 1926, a table of hybridization practices in the Gilgit district was compiled after a survey by the colonial administration. Even at that time, the bureaucracy was curious about the variety of domestic animals in the area. It suggested (as referred to by Kreutzmann, 1986, p. 103) that the F1 females (zumo) from mating yak bulls to cows of "other" cattle were regarded as the best milkers and the F1 males (zoi) the best bullocks for ploughing. (The reciprocal F1 was not known to occur). Females of the first backcrosses (in both directions) were still regarded as good milkers but inferior to zumo (F1). Later generations of backcrosses with cattle males were regarded as useless and those with yak bulls eventually approached the yak type. The efforts and inputs from veterinary departments into yak breeding were rather limited, a situation which has not changed much since. Development projects have concentrated on improving cattle, sheep and goats by introducing outside stock (Farman Ali and Khaleel Tetlay, 1991). Yak breeding and interbreeding remains the farmer's responsibility and changes depend on his activities. In recent years, more research on yak keeping in northern Pakistan has taken place.

a) Baltistan

The Tibetan-speaking Muslim population in Baltistan is well known for its hybridization practices. Schmidt (2000: 124-126) has collected data about the practices in the Shigar Valley. The Balti term hyag for yak is basically restricted to male yak while the females are termed hyaqmo. Hybridization with common bulls (xlang) and common cows (ba) is a regular feature of Balti animal husbandry. The female offspring of the hybrids are distinguished from the male by the suffix - mo. In Baltistan, the most common F1 hybrids are zo and zomo, which are regarded as well adapted and suited animals for the agricultural tasks: Zo are frequently employed for ploughing the fields and threshing purposes. The zomo is esteemed for its milk-producing qualities that exceed the average yield from a hyaqmo, the female yak.

In the villages of the Shigar Valley, the average male bovines kept by Balti households varied between 1.2 and 5.6, while the range for females was 3.0 to 10.6, which is rather high when compared with the number of goats that fluctuates between 6.1 and 15.2 and that of sheep between 2.8 and 16.1 (survey in 1997 - 1998 by Schmidt 2000, p. 128). Schmidt (personal communication, 2000) estimated about 1 200 yak and 5 500 - 6 000 hybrids for the whole of the Shigar Valley. A concentration of yak keeping in Shigar is in the upper parts of the valley, namely in Basha and Braldu, where substantial yak herds are to be found, while the low-lying villages keep many fewer yak. They replenish their herds with stock from the high-lying valleys of Basha, Braldo and Thale. The yak purchased there are intended for hybridization, as people esteem the hybrids in the low-lying areas for milk production and as work animals for ploughing and threshing. Yak here are rarely used as pack animals. Generally speaking, there is a similar pattern of yak keeping in Baltistan as in the adjacent districts. To the east, hybrids form the majority while to the west, the proportion of hybrids decreases.

The eastern part of Baltistan is characterized by a higher animal population density and smaller pastures. Thus it would be reasonable to estimate 4 000 yak and less than 20 000 hybrids for the Baltistan district. Some uncertainty remains as to the size of yak herds on the Deosai Plateau, which borders the disputed Kashmir area (M. E. Schmidt, personal communication, 2000).

b) Astor: Nanga Parbat region

Yak hybrids are distributed in the Astor region of the Northern Areas in a similar manner as in Baltistan. Yak keeping is found here, except in the northern declivity of the Nanga Parbat and in the neighbouring villages of the Indus Valley (Clemens and Nüsser, 2000: 162-163, Nüsser, 1998: 110). The Shina-speaking population values hybrids, such as zoi (male) and zomo (female). Yak bulls (in Shina language: bépo) are shared among a group of farmers and can be hired for hybridization for a fee (yakluk). The main yak-breeding area around the Nanga Parbat is the Rupal Gah. In Tarishing, 3 yak and 100 hybrids were recorded (Clemens and Nüsser, personal communication, 2000). In a recent livestock census, three out of four households were interviewed. The number of yak recorded was rather low at 189, compared 2 642 zoi and 2 580 zomo (Nazir Ahmad, 2000). Yak and hybrids represent one fifth of the bovides in the cattle category.

c) Hunza and Nager

In Hunza, a few Burusho keep yak but the majority of yak are with the Wakhi high mountain farmers of Gojal in the upper Hunza Valley. The Burushaski language uses the terms bépay for both female and male yak kept at least part of the time near the homesteads and yabá for male yak that stay the year round in the high pastures. Although argun bépay is listed for a hybrid, hybridization is very uncommon, especially in the upper valley. The Wakhi use the terms zugh for male yak and zughghev for the female. A number of villages in Gojal keep yak (Kreutzmann, 1986), and they are mainly those with access to extensive and remote pastures, such as Pasu and the Batura region, the upper Chupursan valley and the Abgerchi people as well as the Shimshali.

A total of approximately 1 000 - 1 500 yak are kept in small numbers as part of the household herds. Nonlactating yak are kept in remote locations such as the Khunjerab Pass region and the Shimshal Pamir. The hub of yak breeding in Hunza is the Shimshal Valley where animal husbandry plays a bigger role than in other parts of Gojal in which agricultural activities are being replaced by nonagrarian jobs. Shimshal still is quite remote and controls extensive and fertile pastures - which is what led the former ruler to establish the settlement in the first place. The system of staging, i.e. utilization of pastures at different altitudes, is rather complex (Figure 11.2.8) because a number of fertile, but remote, high pastures are included in the system. According to the degree of a herder's control required, lactating and nonlactating animals are separated and are led to different pastures. The altitude range of yak pastures varies between 3 100 m in the lower Shimshal and 5 300m in the uppermost areas. The bulk of yak are pastured during the summer in Shuijerab and Shuwart where more than 400 yak are gathered (cf. Figure 11.2.8). About 100 yak are led on a difficult path into the Ghujerab valley, which is accessible only from Shimshal and to other side valleys. All recent surveys estimated the number of yak in Shimshal alone as between 500 and 1 000 (cf. Butz 1989, p. 5). The fluctuation relates to animal losses due to bad weather conditions. The high value reflects increases in livestock numbers from purchasing stock from outside the area.

In recent years, some farmers from Hunza have been engaged in some yak trading with their Kirghiz neighbours in Afghanistan to supply the civil and military meat market of the Northern Areas. In the same manner, yak have been imported from the Chinese Pamirs. This strategy has led to the improvement of local herds, as good breeding animals were kept by the farmers or specially purchased.

Yak meat is now available in butcher shops in the business centres of Hunza and Gilgit on a regular basis, a feature unknown a decade ago. In the Nager area, some hybrids were reported from Minapin at the foot of Rakaposhi mountain and from Hispar at the mouth of the Hispar glacier.

d) Chitral, Yasin and Ishkoman

In Chitral, Northwest Frontier province, there are three areas where yak (Khowar language: zogh) are kept. First, between Shandur Pass and Buni Zom about 700 yak - with hybrids only in the upper valleys, such as Laspur Gol (a valley on the western foot of Shandur Pass, 3 700m), about 50 yak in Phagram Gol (on the northern side of the Buni Zom mountain).

The second area is located on the northeastern face of Tirich Mir, where about 70 yak and hybrids in Shagrom, Tirich Gol, and about 400 in Khot, a side valley of Turkho (Nüsser, 1999 and personal communication, 2000). The third area with yak is the Wakhi region of Upper Chitral where extensive pastures are utilized and individual households keep up to 60 yak (no hybridization), with an average of 9.6 among the 116 households (Kreutzmann, 1996 - see pp. 67 and 133). These figures are derived from empirical studies in the 1990s; the agricultural census data are either not available or are not reliable as samples are not regularly taken in the remote locations where mountain farmers keep yak and census data are more often restricted to the more easily accessible regions.

A similar situation applies to the Yasin and Ishkoman valleys, Ghizer district. In Yasin, yak are kept in the Thui valley (approx. 150), in Barkulti (approx. 50) and in Darkot and the Nazbar valleys. It was reported that no hybrids are kept and that the maximum number is well below a total of 500 yak in Yasin (Stöber, 2001 and personal communication). In Ishkoman, Wakhi and Gujur (former nomads) keep yak in the Karambar Valley (<500). The Wakhi settled here as refugees in the late nineteenth century and introduced yak keeping in Ishkoman. The Gujur arrived later and first offered their services as animal herders in the region before becoming independent animal husbandry people. In suitable locations, they adopted the practice of yak keeping from their neighbours.

The major yak herds are found in the Gupis area, which resembles the upper parts of the Ghizer district close to the Shandur Pass (3 700m) region and the neighbouring Chitral district. A recent survey (Juergen Clemens, personal communication, 2000) showed 3 095 yak for Gupis alone. Overall, the proportion of yak in the Ghizer district is approximately 5 percent of all bovides; cattle, sheep and goats are kept in roughly similar proportions

In all cases, yak augment the livestock of mountain farmers in a complex system of irrigated crop farming and animal husbandry. Nonlactating yak are regularly kept outside the homesteads for almost the whole year; calves and their mothers spend some short periods in the permanent settlements prior to their migration to the high pastures.

Figure 11.2.8 Staging of animal husbandry in Shimshal (Northern Pakistan)


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[12] Hermann Kreutzmann is Professor of the Department of Kulturgeographie und Entwicklungsforschung, Institut fuer Geographie, Universitaet Erlangen-Nuernberg, Germany.

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