How has a Yak adapted in high altitudes?

How has a Yak adapted in high altitudes?

A Yak is a hairy bovine, like domestic cattle and the Bison. The Wild Yak (Bos mutus) lives in mountainous regions of the Himalayas, Mongolia, and Russia. For example, the Himalayan mountains are 4,000-6,000 metres (13,000-19,000 feet) tall.

Its shaggy hair keeps it warm in the cold mountains. Its hair is thicker and longer than the hair of domestic cattle. However, it is also adapted to the high altitudes in other ways.


In mountain regions, oxygen levels in the air are low – that is why most mountaineers use oxygen tanks and masks when they climb Mt Everest and other mountains.

The Yak does not need to use oxygen tanks! The Yak has smaller red blood cells than a human, and domestic cattle, that improve the transport of oxygen throughout its body. 

The Yak also has a large lung capacity that can take in more air than a human. It can breathe in 3 times more air than domestic cattle. 

The Yak also has a larger stomach compartment, called a rumen, than domestic cattle. The means that it can eat more grass and get more nutrients and more energy than domestic cattle. The Yak eats the equivalent of 1% of its body weight – but if a domestic cow lived in the mountains it would need to eat 3% of its body weight to get the same amount of energy as a Yak.

Therefore, the Yak has adapted in high altitudes with a large lung capacity, small red blood cells, thick shaggy hair, and a large rumen. 


Location of photographs: Tbilisi Zoo, Georgia

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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