Nepalese Yak

D.D. Joshi

Nepal borders India to the south and the Tibetan autonomous region of China to the north. Across a south-north distance of a little more than 160 km, the land rises from 100 m altitude, with a tropical and subtropical climate, to the highest parts of the Himalayas (6 000 - 8 000 m), including Mount Everest on its border, with a mixture of temperate and arctic climate.Yak are confined to the northern districts of Nepal at the higher elevations. Many hybrids of yak with domestic cattle (Kirkho/Lulu and Nepalese hill cattle) are kept on neighbouring, somewhat lower ground and sometimes alongside the yak. Joshi (1982) considered that without yak and yak hybrids it is doubtful if people would live in much of northern Nepal. In total, according to D.D. Joshi (personal communication, 2001), there are around 20 000 yak and about 40 000 yak-cattle hybrids in the 18 alpine districts of Nepal. These numbers represent a decline from an estimated 200 000 yak and hybrids in 1961. At the least, a part of the decline in numbers is attributed to government restrictions on livestock numbers and movement in Nepal's national parks. Also, the impact of tourism and the attractions of other ways of making a living have reduced the incentive to pursue yak herding with its attendant rigours (Joshi, 2000).

Milk is the main commercial product from yak and from the hybrids of yak with cattle. Nepal's appreciation for yak products differs from China in one important use of the milk: In Nepal, in addition to the butter and other products made by herders from milk for their own use, large quantities of milk are sold and made into a Swiss-style hard cheese and into butter in processing factories built in the yak milk-producing areas. A very full account of these factories and an assessment of their operation is given by Joshi et al. (1999). The most recent figures, for the year 1997 - 1998, show a production of 176 tonnes of cheese and 26 tonnes of butter. The cheese in particular fetches a high price and is sold, principally to tourists in Kathmandu. According to these authors, demand for cheese still greatly exceeds supply, but notwithstanding, not all the factories operate at a profit. Although the yak cheese commands a higher price than cheese made from cattle or buffalo milk, the costs of production are also high because production is only seasonal, and the factories do not therefore work the year round. In addition, transport costs are high. Paudyal (1993) referred to a Winrock research report on cheese production in Nepal that suggested that as a consequence of the profitable sale of milk for cheese making, yak calves are being deprived of milk to the extent that calf mortality has increased. [Continue reading at… ]