Yaks. When people think of the animals of Tibet, a yak has to be among the first they think of. Eighty-five percent (or about 10 million) of the world's yaks live on the Tibetan Plateau. A yak is built to survive tough environments. Yaks have three times more red blood cells than normal cows so they are able to live without any problems on the high elevation grasslands of Tibet. Their long, thick hair insulates their bodies from winter temperatures that can get to -30C (-22F) or colder. Most yaks are black, but it is not uncommon to see white or gray ones especially on the grasslands of northern Amdo (modern day Qinghai province).
Tibetans have a long history of using yaks. Experts believe that yaks were first domesticated in Tibet at least 3000 years ago. They are sturdy, sure-footed and perfect for using as pack animals to cross high mountain passes. They can easily carry loads of 70kg (154lb) along rough and steep mountain trails. For centuries yaks have been used to carry salt from the Changtang (northern Plateau) to towns across Tibet and even across the Himalaya into the Dolpo region of Nepal. Yaks can begin being used as pack animals at age 2 and can often live to be over 20 years old.
Yaks are the most important animals to the Tibetan people. Nomads keep yaks in herds between 20 and 100. Most of Tibet is treeless, so dried yak dung is used as fuel for fires. Yak hair is woven into yarn and used to make tents and rope. Yak hide is used to make boots and boats. Yak meat is eaten by nearly every Tibetan family. It is high in protein with only one-sixth the fat of regular beef. In the summer months it is dried, but in winter it is often eaten raw. Yak milk is high in fat and is usually made into butter, yogurt and cheese. Yaks are always given names, but their names are different from the names given to people.
Wild yaks, called "drong" in Tibetan, once roamed all across Tibet. They were hunted to near extinction and now number less than 1000. Males can measure up to 2m (6ft 6in) at the shoulder and weigh up to 1000kg (2200lb). Most of the wild yaks of Tibet now live in the Kekexili Nature Preserve located in southwest Qinghai and northeast Tibet Autonomous Region. Inside Kekexili they are protected from hunters. China government officials are spending a lot of money in hopes of multiplying the number of wild yak in Tibet.
In nomadic areas, yaks are still used as a mode of transportation. Yaks are either fitted with a saddle or are ridden bareback. It is not uncommon to see children riding a yak while out grazing the yaks. Many towns across Tibet hold annual summer horse festivals. Nearly every horse festival will hold a yak race which adds to the fun of the festival.