I find that today’s report by the Kuensel or, more accurately, the report by the Centre for Bhutan & GNH Studies on the causes for the drop in Yak rearing in our alpine highlands is incomplete, at best. I would like to attempt to complete the list by adding the following causes that have been poorly reported, or missed out entirely.
An incomplete report on the issue
- I believe that at the top of the list is the economic competence afforded by the income from annual Cordyceps harvest from their regions, authorized/legitimized during early 2000s. The highland Bjops as a community are now richer than their lowland Ngaspos (hosts) who host them during the winter months when they migrate for few months. These Bjops now own a number of multi-storied buildings in urban centers such as Trongsa, Bumthang, Wangdue, Punakha, Paro, Trashigang, Mongaar etc.
- Some of the Bjops have made permanent relocations to low lands, upon becoming owners of land and other properties - thus abandoning their traditional yak rearing occupation.
- The yaks’ traditional pastureland where they use to graze has seen invasion by hundreds of pack ponies from the low lands. These ponies compete with the yaks for the scantily available grass. During one of my trips to the remote alpine regions, I have seen quarrel breakout between the yak herders and the pony drivers. The yak herders claim ownership right over the grazing space - while the pony drivers contend that their ponies cannot be denied right of nourishment. At one point I had to pay the yak herders compensation for the grass consumed by over a dozen of my pack ponies because I believed that the yak herders’ rights precedes that of the pony drivers.
- Thousands upon thousands of Cordyceps collectors storm the mountainsides during the Cordyceps collection months that illegally extend over three months. During these periods, the collectors use up huge amounts of a low-lying alpine bush called “Pam” - for use as fuel wood. This renders the topsoil barren of cover for regeneration of much needed grass for consumption by the yaks, also causing erosion over time.
- Something that I had never realized before was the fact that a large number of the yaks reared in the high mountains are owned by the monk body and the powerful and rich families in the low lands - only a limited number of the yak herders actually own the yaks they herd under extreme climactic and weather conditions. These traditional part time owners are now abandoning the occupation - for better opportunities and as a result of economic gains afforded by the cordyceps collection.
- On one of my trips to Merak’s highest peak - Mt. Jumo Koongkhar, I spent a few nights at a yak herding family’s camp. I was witness to a brutal predation on few yaks by the Black Bears - this was the first time I realized that bears were not entirely herbivores, as I had believed. I am told that this is a regular problem with the yak herders.
Perhaps it is time for the government to take a closer look at the consequences of the changing habits of the Bjops.