A Shaggy-Yak Story
“Royal yaks for sale,” reads the sign a few miles north of downtown Fresno on California 99. Could there really be a herd of the shaggy, long-horned Tibetan bovines in the sweltering flatlands of the Central Valley? It’s possible.
Around the country, rare-breed enthusiasts raise the creatures for yak cashmere and yakburgers (like ostrich and emu, they’re supposed to be lower in cholesterol than beef). Two years ago, John Bonadelle bought a dozen yaks from dealers in New York, Northern California and Washington state (no, not from Yakima). At first he kept them at his 73-acre BBB Ranch in Fresno, along with Watusi cattle, water buffalo and other exotic livestock.
They weren’t just any yaks but Royal yaks, mottled black and white. “They’re classier than regular brown yaks,” claims Robin Smith, who helped care for the grunting 800-pound behemoths.
Alas, the 100-degree-plus Fresno summers debilitated the yaks, which thrive at elevations of 14,000 to 19,000 feet in the Himalayas. “They just couldn’t take the heat,” recalls Bonadelle. “If they ran 50 feet, they’d open their mouths and pant. We tried trimming their hair short, but they got sunburned.” One male, made grouchy by the heat, gored a zebra. Several yaks succumbed to sunstroke.
Bonadelle sold some of the herd and moved the rest to a property 10 miles northeast in the foothills of the Sierra, where a cool stream and lake breezes provided relief. Not from predators, however: Cougars (or perhaps coyotes) knocked off one yak, leaving only skin and bones. To complete the trail tale of woe, last January yak rustlers abducted a male named Hot Shot and a yak calf, making off in the dead of night with the last of the herd. The police have no suspects.
“They were beautiful and expensive,” laments Bonadelle. “I wouldn’t keep yaks again if you gave them to me.”
Nevertheless, at least two California ranchers do maintain small herds, in more yak-salubrious climates. Stay tuned for future bulletins.