Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for ... Yak

As a friend to the children commend me the Yak.
You will find it exactly the thing:
It will carry and fetch, you can ride on its back,
Or lead it about with a string.

The Tartar who dwells on the plains of Thibet
(A desolate region of snow)
Has for centuries made it a nursery pet.
And surely the Tartar should know!

Then tell your papa where the Yak can be got,
And if he is awfully rich
He will buy you the creature - or else he will not.
(I cannot be positive which.)

Hilaire Belloc's 1896 poem ascribes to the yak considerable virtues, without troubling to mention the Himalayan bovine is among the largest species in the family - a wild yak can stand 7 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh over a metric ton - or that they are so well-adapted for the harsh high-altitude environment they call home that they struggle in more human-friendly habitats. In Tibet, domesticated yaks - which are smaller than the wild yak - are used as hardy beasts of burden, and for their milk, their meat, their hides ... even their dung makes valuable fuel, for there is little vegetation in the high Himalayas that can serve this purpose. Yaks even provide a tourist attraction, and are employed in bizarre sports like yak polo.

Another use to which the yak has been put is in substituting for another infamous Himalaya native, also known by a name beginning with Y. Hide from yaks has been claimed in the past, wittingly or otherwise, to be residual evidence of the legendary yeti, the cryptid apeman of the Himalayas. Other specimens have been reliably identified as belonging to Tibetan blue bears, or the serow, a species of mountain goat. Cryptozoologists continue to return, however, drawn by a long history of mysterious footprints in the high snowfields, periodic intriguing finds of partial remains - the Panboche hand, a relic that had Neanderthal features but that was stolen before it could be fully tested, is a classic example - and a wealth of eyewitness reports stretching back into history and persisting to the present day. We shall speak more of the Yeti another time.

No comments: