How Many Species Of Yaks Are There?
According to the (Chinese) Provincial annals of livestock breeds, there are 12 officially recognized breeds of domestic yak in China: the Jiulong yak and Maiwa yak in Sichuan, Tianzhu White yak and Gannan yak in Gansu, Pali yak, Jiali (“Alpine”) yak and Sibu yak in Tibet, Huanhu yak and Plateau yak in Qinghai, Bazhou yak in Xinjiang and Zhongdian yak in Yunnan, and one other, the “Long-hair-forehead yak” in Qinghai – which does not, however, meet all the criteria used to define a yak breed. Among these, the Plateau yak, Maiwa yak, Jiulong yak, Tianzhu White yak and Jiali (“Alpine”) yak are also included in the publication Bovine breeds in China.
The yak of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau yak (often called Plateau or Grassland yak) and those of the Henduan mountain Alpine yak (often called Alpine or Valley yak) have long been regarded as “types”. This classification was initially based on the geographic and topographic parameters of their habitats and on the body size of different yak populations in the different environments.
Although there are some differences between the main types in appearance and in aspects of their performance – as there are also among the breeds – it is not yet resolved to what extent such differences are genetic and to what extent they derive from varying conditions in the areas in which these yak populations are found.
In this article, the main characters of 11 of the principal breeds are reviewed. In addition, information is given on an “improved” strain of yak, named Datong yak, which was started by crossbreeding between Huanhu yak and wild yak (using artificial insemination) and subsequently developed on the Datong Yak Farm in Qinghai. (The Datong yak is not at present classified as a breed because of its limited numbers).
Outside China, most notably in Mongolia and in countries of the CIS (formerly Soviet Union), yak are usually referred to by a name designating the area where they are kept or the area from which they have come. Whether this constitutes different breeds in the genetic sense is a matter for debate and is not generally claimed.
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