Like bison roaming North American prairies, wild yaks used to wander vast tracts of the Tibetan steppe. And just as the buffalo were slaughtered to the brink of extinction, over-hunting decimated populations of yaks, too. Their skulls still litter peaks that reach altitudes of 17,500 feet.

During a recent sojourn to Tibet’s Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve—a place nearly as large as West Virginia but practically devoid of humans—WCS and Chinese scientists observed a large herd of wild yaks.

The team counted 990 animals in a region sometimes referred to as the “3rd pole” due to its Arctic-like conditions. Although experts are unable to estimate wild yak numbers across the larger Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau, they believe the species may be on the rise thanks to conservation efforts by Chinese park officials and provincial governments.

“Wild yaks are icons for the remote, untamed, high-elevation roof of the world,” said Joel Berger, who led the expedition for WCS and the University of Montana. “While polar bears represent a sad disclaimer for a warming Arctic, the recent count of almost 1,000 wild yaks offers hope for the persistence of free-roaming large animals at the virtual limits of high-altitude wildlife.”

Learn more in our press release>>