Yaks: The Himalayan Cow

The domesticated Yak or the Tartary ox is a type of cattle found in the Himalayas. This long-haired animal looks extremely similar to a buffalo but is found halfway across the world. The Yak is a domesticated mammal that is thought to have originated in Tibet but, is found in areas of Asia that have elevations greater than 4,000 meters.

So, how do Yaks survive at such high altitudes? Over thousands of years and evolutions, Yaks have developed to increase their metabolism, improve foraging ability, enlarged lungs and hearts, and the lack of blood vessel constriction in the lungs due to low oxygen. All of these physiological and anatomical adaptations have made the yak a master of low nutrient and oxygen supply.

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The Himalayas are also some of the coldest places on Earth, with temperatures reaching -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius). To cope with these frigid temperatures the Yak has developed one of the warmest and densest coats in the world. On the outside of its fur is a layer of long hair that droops past its body. This is one of the main identifying characteristics of a Yak. Below that layer of fur is another even denser layer. This fur is not long, however. Instead, it is short and matted.

At such high altitudes and such low temperatures, the Yak does not find much nutrients. When it does, however, it feeds on grass, flowers, moss, and tubers. This diet and low nutrient availability may make you wonder if Yaks are really that large? The answer to that is yes. They can grow over 6 feet tall and weigh up to 2,200 pounds! Though these bovines are massive and scary they are actually extremely friendly to people. They can recognize faces and are often extremely friendly to people they know. However, if a Yak is aggressive it can use its horns as defense. Their horns are extremely tough and are often used to break through snow and ice.