Number of dead yaks could be more than 500, herders tell Sikkim govt

The number of yaks that died of starvation in north Sikkim could be 500 or more, the authorities have said after talking to herders who graze the animals in Mukuthang Valley in the northeastern state near the border with China.

Officials had said on Saturday that 300 yaks died at around 15,000 ft in Mukuthang after families, which looked after them, came down to lower altitudes to save themselves from the cold, leaving the flocks behind.

“The figure is likely to increase and may cross 500 if one goes by the claim made by local people,” Raj Kumar Yadav, district collector of North Sikkim district, said.

“Two teams of the animal husbandry department and civil administration have reached the affected areas and are collating data,” said Yadav.

The report is supposed to reach the administration by Monday evening.

Officials described the incident as catastrophic and unprecedented.

The Sikkim government said in a statement on Saturday that the yaks were stranded at one place in Mukuthang since December which caused starvation and led to their death.

Bad weather and heavy snowfall had blocked the road leading to Mukuthang for the last three months and several attempts at dropping fodder in helicopters for the yaks failed. It takes five-hours by a vehicle and another three to four-hour trek to reach Mukuthang Valley from Gangtok, the state capital.

Experienced herders in Sikkim said this is the highest yak death toll in recent memory. They said yaks died in large numbers because of starvation in 1968, 1985 and 1995.

“I lost 80 of them in the last two few months and many are about to die. Many yaks have died in the past due to starvation and snowfall but the toll is highest this year. I somehow managed to return from Mukuthang Valley,” Tsogyal Bhutia, a retired Sikkim police personnel who owned 200 yaks in Mukuthang Valley, said.

“I suspect that more than 900 yaks are dead by now in Mukuthang and nearby areas,” 66-year-old Bhutia, whose family started herding when Sikkim was under the monarchy, said.

Tenzing Lachungpa, a herder who lost ten yaks recently, said the deaths will have an adverse impact on everyone. “Yaks are extensively used by the army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and local people to transport goods along the rough terrain,” he said.

Sonam Norgay Lachungpa, president of Travel Agents’Association of Sikkim (TAAS) who also belongs to a family of herders, said the yaks manage to survive on very little grass they get at these high altitudes.

“But non-stop snowfall killed all the grass and herders could not reach the valley with fodder. The yaks could not move to another location because of heavy snowfall. Their blood froze. There are reports of many yaks dying in Yumathang, 22 km from Lachung,” he added.

The herding families depend on the yaks and earn their living by selling their milk and cheese.

First Published:
May 13, 2019 10:14 IST

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