When a trending global ‘topic’ goes local, it becomes a concern. Climate change is one of such global topics which may be effortlessly voiced virtually but takes a lot of effort to be addressed in reality when it shrinks down to becoming a local concern.

The reported death of almost 250-300 yaks in the valley of Muguthang and Yumthang in North Sikkim may be hitting the media headlines and turning as a trending story to rest of the world, but for the locals it’s ‘alarming’ as this mass death come with prominent and adverse effects on the socio-cultural life and the ecosystem.

Researchers claim that the death of this multipurpose mammal is related to climate change. Climatic conditions play a major role in the survival of yaks.

Though some believe that the animal deaths reported may be just confined to heavy snowfall, road blockade, starvation of yaks and compensation but it shall have a severe consequence if not delved scientifically and researched.

Courtesy:DC North Sikkim

As informed by DC North, Raj Kumar Yadav, the alarming number of yak death is due to the unprecedented and prolonged snowfall witnessed since December 2018 till recently.

“The medical team and officials of Animal husbandry with the support of North district administration and ITBP are moving ahead to put in all efforts to provide feed and fodder subsistence package to the affected farmers and their livestock. However, inaccesibility of the area due to heavy snowfall did not pave way for the much needed help with even airdropping of materials becoming unfeasible. Now that the snow has started melting, the department and the district authorities have dispatched teams to treat and save the remaining animals including appropriate disposal of carcass,” he informed.

He further added, “we are still being informed that more than 50 yaks are alive and stranded in the valley, so a team of SDM Chungthang along with medical teams and officials of Animal Husbandary and ITBP are deployed for the rescue operation presently.”

He said that as per SDRF norms, the affected farmers will also be provided with ex-gratia amount of 30 thousand per yak with a limit of 3 yaks per farmer.

There is much more damage seen when there is repeated freezing and thawing which can cause plants to drag out of the soil as well as damage susceptible flower buds. So, nutrient deficiency and starvation during cold weather is supposed to be one of the major factors of the deaths of yaks.

While speaking to Sikkim Chronicle, Pema Wangdi (34) from Lachen, one of the affected farmers said that the exact number of deaths is still unknown and the concerned authority officials are paving ahead to find the exact facts.
“More than 78 yaks of mine are stranded up in the higher regions of Gurudongmar, and some are reported dead but I have no idea about the exact figure,” he told.

Courtesy:DC North Sikkim

Wangdi further added, “yak farming is my ancestral occupation and one of the major sources of my family’s income. The milk products made from yak’s milk and its by-products generate an income of almost 3-4 lacs per annum. Now the death will miserably affect us. It will not only affect my livelihood and socio-cultural lives of the farmers but also the tourism industry of North Sikkim. Tourists visit us just to witness yaks in real and to take fancy yak rides.”

Speaking on the compensation as per SDRF norms Wangdi said that the compensation is less as compared to the loss. Thus, he appealed to the government to kindly monitor the total loss and compensate it accordingly.

The wrath of nature and inaccessibility to the areas will definitely affect the livelihood sustainability of the people of North Sikkim.

Researchers claim that the death of this multipurpose mammal is related to climate change. Climatic conditions play a major role in the survival of yaks. According to Dr. Kriti Ghatani, Assistant Professor of Department of Microbiology, Raiganj University, the slight increase in temperature of the environment will make the mammal unfit and intolerable. They can survive in the annual mean temperature below 5°C and the average in the hottest month with less than 13°C. Low temperature and too much snow add weight to plants, cause damage to plant structures and damage root systems affecting the pastures with decreased growth on wild flowers and shrubs. There is much more damage seen when there is repeated freezing and thawing which can cause plants to drag out of the soil as well as damage susceptible flower buds. So, nutrient deficiency and starvation during cold weather is supposed to be one of the major factors of the deaths of yaks.

Dr. Kriti has worked on the yaks of North Sikkim and have several national and international publications on yaks.

She further added that the cause of death may also be due to some parasitic diseases or drinking stagnant snow water. There have been earlier reports of gastrointestinal parasitic infection affecting 348 yaks (Bos poephagus) in Gurudogmer in North Sikkim with helminths, Haemonchus spp. infection (6.89%), Nematodirus spp. (1.72%), Cooperia spp. (1.43%) and Dicrocoelium spp. (0.29%) found in the yak feces (Bandyopadhyay et al., 2010). Another study conducted also revealed 20% positive for gastrointestinal parasitic infection out of 232 numbers of faecal samples of yak in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in 2013 (Goswami et al., 2013).

The death of yaks shall affect the herders on a larger scale. Yaks are the main source of sustaining livelihood of the herdsmen of the alpine area in Sikkim.

Contrary to the rest of the places of Sikkim where agriculture is the main source of income, in North Sikkim, the yaks are important as herders cannot depend on agriculture as no vegetative growth occurs due to harsh climatic conditions. Yaks are also called as surefooted multipurpose animals because of its ability to carry goods and ration items from one part to another across the bumpy and stony heights of the rocky mountain terrains for the army men to their camps. Yak milk, meat, hair, body skin and tail serve the herders in sustaining their survival in terrific cold situations. Since ancient times, the yak herders or farmers are processing yak milk and its by-products.

The temperate, alpine eastern Himalayan regions are home to about 90% of the yak population of Sikkim. The world population of domestic yaks is about 14.2 million, of which 71,000 yaks are present in India. According to the summary report on 18th livestock census 2007 of Sikkim state there are 6,468 yaks in Sikkim alone thus the recent death of yaks has decreased the population. The deaths should be considered as a sign of danger if the people and the government do not give it a serious check at the right time.

References

  1. Bandyopadhyay, S., Pal, P., Bhattacharya, D., Bera, A. K., Pan, D., & Rahman, H. (2010). A report on the prevalence of gastrointestinal parasites in yaks (Bos poephagus) in the cold desert area of North Sikkim, India. Tropical animal health and production, 42(1), 119.
  2. Goswami, A., Laha, R., Sarma, D., & Chatlod, L. R. (2013). A report on gastrointestinal parasitic infections in yaks. Indian J Hill Farming, 26, 42-4.

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