Sustainable Yak husbandry in the Kyrgyz Tien Shan Mountains
An important contribution to snow leopard protection
Yaks in Kyrgyzstan
This very native cattle breed is reared in Kyrgyzstan for about 100 years. Yaks are characterized mainly by their undemanding nature and their adaptability to the conditions in extreme climates; they live outdoors all year and up to an altitude of 4.500 meters. These attributes makes them the perfect cattle for the population of alpine regions like Tien Shan as they provide not just basic food like milk and meat, but also leather and wool for clothes, tools and housing. In reference to all these benefits the Kyrgyz government started to subsidise the increase of Yak quantity in the country in order to support especially the population of faraway mountain areas in the creation of a better economic perspective. By now the number of Yaks raise on about 100.000 animals on different pasture that are controlled by local pasture committees.
Important factors - Yaks and sustainability
Seen by the point of view of nature conservation, the Yak supports the goals for environment and humans better than other breeds. First of all, Yaks rarely fall victim to predators as they are able to oppose to attackers – different to sheep and goats. Thus, inhabitants don´t have to worry about losing their source of life through e.g. snow leopards, and tend to hunt these predator animals less often. Second, Yaks cause less trampling damage than others and graze without harming the plants roots. Therefore they are qualified better for alpine regions and help to preserve the habitat for the snow leopard and its prey – mainly the ibex and wild sheep.
The project region around the valley of Kara-Kujur and the bordering areas of Naryn in Central Tien Shan are able to take more animals on its potential pastures as they do now. However the problem is that local small farmers tend to use just the lower located meadows, as the effort to herd the cattle up to the faraway summer pastures is simply organisational and financial too high. As a consequence the winter pasture areas are overused, and at the same time with the loss species and soil degradation also the quality of the pastures falls off.
Developing sustainable pasture management
The NABU project works closely with the local communities and pasture committees to develop sustainable pasture management plans in order to protect the valuable biodiversity in the area as well as to preserve the for the farmers necessary pastures as long as possible. To compensate the by protective measures caused higher effort for the pastoralists, the project also contains the support of a marketing strategy for Yak products that aims sustainable economic activities and an ensured and appropriate income for the farmers. A market analysis performed in the project region as well as in Bishkek shows potentials for the sales of Yak products and in the context of an educational trip some pasture committee representatives had the possibility to inform about the strategies of small farmers in the field of product sales and grafting in Germany.
Furthermore the NABU had the chance to build an environmental educational centre to increase the pastoralists’ awareness. In future the centre might not just be used for educational objectives, but also be opened for eco-tourism that provides another sustainable income possibility to local communities.