Photo Credit: Xuchang Liang

Community-based Program to Conserve the Wild Yak in Tibet


Conservation Problem

Wild Yak live in the alpine regions of the Tibetan plateau in mountainous areas that range from 4,000 to 6,100 meters in elevation. Steppe meadow is a favored habitat, but that type of grassland is also the best pasture for domestic livestock. Livestock herds are currently increasing in number in the region, and the associated increase in intensity of pasture use is displacing the Wild Yak and reducing the habitat available to them. Interbreeding with domestic yak presents the major threat to the remaining wild populations, not only by threatening the genetic purity of Wild Yak, but also by creating a conflict between Wild Yak and pastoralists (who do not want to lose their domestic cows when they join wild bulls). Due to these pressures, the overall range of the wild populations has shrunk, and only fragmented and isolated populations remain in the core area in northern Tibet and northwestern Qinghai. There is both a real need and a real opportunity to take action now to secure a priority area of Wild Yak habitat and prevent them from interacting with domestic yak.

The Wild Yak's global population has probably declined by over 30% in the past 30 years. About 7,000-7,500 Wild Yak, almost half of the global population, are found in the Changtang National Nature Reserve (298,000 km²) in Tibet. However, this species is now one of the most threatened species of the Tibetan Plateau and has been persecuted to the point that it only finds refuge in the most remote, relatively human-free areas.

Project Activities

This SOS project, implemented by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), is focused on creating buffer zones around existing Wild Yak habitat, where livestock grazing will be effectively eliminated. This will separate the domestic and wild population, provide more habitat for Wild Yak, and help reduce interactions between wild and domestic populations. Thus by controlling human-livestock expansion, Wild Yak should have more suitable habitat south of their current distribution and populations will be able to increase. Compensation will be provided in exchange for preventing livestock from grazing in the designated buffer zone and will be determined through discussions with relevant stakeholders.

The project will be in two northern-most townships in the Changtang grassland (Aru and Garco). Each of these townships has a significant Wild Yak population of 400-500 animals. The buffer area between wild populations and domestic livestock is likely to be approximately 10,000 acres, with financial compensation provided for approximately 30 families.

Project Outcomes

The main project objective is to design, in collaboration with local communities, a 10km wide buffer zone around Wild Yak populations in two of the northern-most townships in Changtang Reserve and to monitor the effectiveness of the buffer zone.

As the buffer zone should help reduce grazing pressures and associated grassland degradation (a key objective of the national grassland recovery program), project results may be used to influence policy as to sustained inputs beyond the two-year life of the project towards compensation funds through the grassland recovery program.

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