Tag: wild yak

Expedition to Northern Tibet, Part 2: Where the Wild Yak Roams

Kiang live up here.

We’re in the highest, most desolate section of Tibetan Plateau; a place no one lives and very few visit. And yet even here we’re accompanied by oddly domestic shapes. Kiang, or Tibetan wild ass (Equus kiang), are a strikingly coloured relative of the donkey; their red-brown backs contrasting sharply with white flanks, belly, legs, neck and muzzle.

They can survive more arid conditions than any other large mammal on the plateau, and like their less-wild cousins, are masters at finding food where there appears to be none. Their equine shape and canter are familiar even to someone who has spent very little time with horses.

As we struggle with our bike and trailers, slouching exhausted every couple of hundred meters, the domestication of equines seems like one of our species smartest achievements.

A big part of the Chinese government’s motivation for creating these nature preserves (Kekexili and Aerjinshan) was protection for the endangered Tibetan antelope or chiru (Pantholops hodgsoni). With slender arched horns the colour of ebony, chiru are an attractive antelope. But it is their pelts that are the cause of their decline. To deal with extreme cold, chiru have an extraordinarily fine and soft undercoat, known as Shahtoosh. Considered among the most luxurious and prized of all animal fibres, a shawl made of Shahtoosh can supposedly be passed through a wedding ring.

Poaching of these antelope – dramatized in the haunting film Kekexili Mountain Patrol – has pushed the small remaining population to the highest and most remote parts of the Tibetan Plateau.

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Expedition to Northern Tibet, Part 1: The Land of Charging Blue Bears

Why is it that when you are trying to be the quietest, you inevitably drop or bang something noisy? Well, at least that’s my experience.

The ice that just cracked under my foot was like a window breaking.

The bear sleeping on the bank of the river exploded with a roar.

Within a few seconds it was covering the frozen ground towards us at break-neck speed. My friend Hamish and I raised our airhorns above our heads and squeezed. The bear kept coming. Then just as the horns started to wheeze their last exhale of compressed air, the bear registered the sound and pulled up.

Standing less than 80 feet from us was one of the rarest bears on the planet, the Tibetan blue bear (Ursus arctos pruinosus).

We didn’t speak, there wasn’t anything to say. We both knew that our air horns were exhausted and that in retrospect we should have had a plan to let off one then the other.

The bear stared at us with lips curled back. We stood frozen holding our bikes. It wasn’t more than a few seconds – time enough to process the gravity of the situation – before the bear turned and retreated. Twenty feet at first, then all the way to the bank, then half way up the sand dune, at each point turning to observe and perhaps reevaluate its decision to retreat, then finally over the top of the dune and out of sight. This was the first bear we had seen on the expedition.

“Holy [expletive].”

“These air horns just saved our lives.”

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Salmon Cam Returns

We’re pleased to return Salmon Cam, a live view of spawning Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout.

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