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Yak across borders

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Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD.

Bhutan gifts breeding bulls to India and Nepal to enhance yak productivity in the Kangchenjunga Landscape

Yak across borders

In a significant move bolstering yak conservation in the HKH region, the Government of Bhutan handed over two yak breeding bulls to Nepal and one to Sikkim, India, on 27 February 2020 during a ceremony in Paro, Bhutan. We facilitated this yak germplasm exchange, which was a culmination of our efforts over the years to unite herders, governments, and landscapes for the betterment of yak populations.

Bhutan allowed Nepal and India to choose from a pool of six healthy yak. Then, teams were mobilized to fulfill all required processes for the yak transfer, conducting a thorough health screening of the yak before they were transported to Phalelung Rural Municipality in Nepal and Zema Yak Breeding Station, Lachen, North Sikkim, India.

Yak are integral to the functioning and identity of agro-pastoral communities in the HKH transboundary landscapes. They play a key role in ecosystem management and food security of the highlanders. And migration corridors across borders have been vital in sustaining yak populations in the Far Eastern Himalaya.

Yak herding is a 4,500-year-old practice in the Tibetan Plateau and adjoining areas. The transboundary movement of yak and herders has been critical in acquiring access to good quality breeding stock for sustaining yak production. However, geo-political changes in the region beginning in the late 1950s have led to restricted movement of yak and herders across borders. This restriction has isolated yak populations, inevitably leading to in-breeding and reducing the productivity and health of yak populations, particularly in the southern Himalaya across Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

We have prioritized a transboundary approach to yak conservation since 2017, partnering with local and national governments and organizations to hold several regional yak-related events, including transboundary yak festivals in 2017 and 2018; capacity building of herder groups and cooperatives from Bhutan, India, and Nepal; and exposure visits. These events provided opportunities for strengthening regional networks, cooperation, and linkages at different levels. As an intergovernmental organization, we are well placed to provide a platform for governments to work together and address this key mountain livelihood issue.

A 4,500-year-old practice, yak herding requires transboundary movement of yak and herders for access to good quality breeding stock that sustains yak production. To help solve problems associated with modern border restrictions reducing yak exchange, our germplasm exchange boosts the vitality of yak populations and fosters regional cooperation around yak, an iconic mountain species.

Yak across borders

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