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Basic Information

A Yak is a cloven-hoofed animal similar to cattle, but with very long hair. They are native to the mountainous and plateau regions of Tibet, Nepal, Myanmar, China, and Siberia. They are evolved for living at high altitude and thin atmosphere: They have huge hearts and lungs in their sizable torsos, and retain foetal haemoglobin in their bloodstream through adulthood. Their lungs are three times the size of those of cow of the same mass. They are also adapted for life in cold climates, with a thick layer of fat, long shaggy fur, and a complete lack of sweat glands.

Domesticated Yaks are raised for several purposes. Their milk and meat is consumed. Chhurpi is a hardened Yak-milk cheese that is shelf-stable for years, but also takes a long time to eat. Yak butter is used in Tibetan butter tea, the number one beverage in the region which in turn is mixed with roasted flour to make the staple food tsampa. Their fur is thick and warm, with the undercoat being soft and downy and good for making wool, and the outer hair is strong enough to ropes and tents. Their droppings are the primary burnable fuel in these high-elevation regions where trees are rare, but yak butter is also sometimes burned in lamps (especially at festivals). They are sure-footed beasts of burden, but are tricky to rely on for long journeys because they must graze on grass and will refuse to eat grains or other transportable foods. Yak racing is apparently a thing, and other mounted yak-based sports.

Fewer than 10,000 Yaks live in the wild, down from numbers of about a million just 5 decades ago.

(note that when attached to the name of an aircraft Yak will typically refer to the A.S. Yakovlev Design Bureau, a Russian aircraft manufacturer since merged into the United Aircraft Building Corporation. e.g. the Yak-38 "Forger")


Game and Story Use

  • Any game set in Tibet or the areas thereabout (especially a historical game) is likely to see yaks carrying goods or people on winding rural mountain roads.
  • The biological adaptations of the yak could inspire your design for the mounts used on a frigid ice planet.
    • Or the grim up north or high mountain regions of a fantasy game, for that matter.
  • "That RPG" had a species of "Yak-folk" beastmen that turned out to be evil body hopping genie binders … which seems unfair on the face of it.
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