When the household goods of Warren Hastings were sold at Daylesford, there was found a painting from nature of a Yak, which had formerly lived in the pretty little park which surrounds the house. This greatly puzzled the squires, who thought the animal a bad beast, without points, and with nothing whatever to recommend it but its marvellous coat.
Our neighbours in France have taken a very different view of the qualities of the yak, and have been vigorously engaged, since 1854, in acclimatising this singular race of cattle in the Basses Alpes, in Dauphine, in Auvergne, and at Paris.
So little was known there about the yak in 1848, that M. Isidore Geoffroy St. -Hilaire, in his report on the domestication and naturalisation of useful animals, scarcely ventured to think of the possibility of bringing it to Europe. Very soon after he wrote, however, a female yak was sent via Calcutta, to the late Lord Derby, and she was still alive at the sale of the Knowsley collection, after his death, in 1851.
There was lively bidding for the yak; she was knocked down to a dealer at a hundred guineas, and very soon resold for two; scarcely was the bargain struck when an American party — whom the astute purchaser number two had descried looming in the distance — came up, and offered three! Too late! Purchaser number one had been walked round even at two hundred. No money would tempt number two, and the poor yak, in a few weeks, died in a caravan in consequence of his obstinacy.
Although the Worcestershire squires did not appreciate the qualities of the yak, it is a first-rate animal in point of usefulness, and in the elevated plateau of its native Thibet answers better than Short-horn or Long-horn, Ayrshire or Alderney. The yak yields milk and makes a superior roast; the yak supplies good material for cloth and shawls in its woolly undercoat; the yak is a beast of burden, and drags the plough; the yak is at need a charger — Dr. Hooker was captured by a division of yak-mounted troopers on the borders of Sikkim. The yak is at once the camel, the horse, and the sheep of the Thibetan; his spoils become the insignia of honour in some countries, and the universal fly-flapper in the great houses of the Lower Himalaya, in China, and in India itself.
A wild race still exists; it is so large that there is a saying in the mountains that the liver of a wild yak is a load for the tame. Certain it is, that the skins brought home by Colonel Charlton, one of which is in the Crystal Palace, bespeak a noble Animal, not of the gigantic stature of of the Gour and Gayal, of the Arnee, or the Cape Buffalo, but a fine sporting-looking beast, with every indication of pace and power. Even the domestic animal, when free in the mountain pastures of Jura, is full of fire, his eye flashing, his head high in the air, his tail thrown forward over his back or carried aloft like a standard with the long silky hair depending; galloping with high horse-like action; and, when excited by rivalry, charging his antagonist with the velocity of an avalanche.
The native region of the yak is the northern side of the Himalaya, from Ladak, through Thibet, to northern China; on the south-side of the range he does not come lower than 10,000 feet and has been seen as high up as 16,000, where the pasture is necessarily of the scantiest. His hardy nature suffices itself with the fare of a goat. The wild yak is of a beautiful dark ruddy brown, passing into black; the long silky fringe which ornaments his flank almost touching the ground, reminds one of the Musk-ox, his congener in the Arctic circle.
The yak was known to the ancients. Lilian speaks of him, calls him Poephagus: Marco Polo knew him in 1275: and then there is a long interval of silence until we come to Pallas and Gamelin in the last century.
And what is a yak? The woodcut explains his outward form to a certain extent. You will observe that he is a species of cattle, not an artificial breed, but a well-defined species; domesticated indeed, but derived from the existing wild animal which is still hunted on the northern slopes of the Himalaya.
Poephagus grunniens, the Grunting Ox, because his voice is the voice of a hog — a peculiarity which the domestic race have preserved to perfection. He delights in many names, he is called the Sarlyk, the Svora Goy, and the Chauri Gun, as well as Yak, and the crossbred offspring of yak and zebu is called the Dzo. Mr. Brian Hodgson, who from his long residence in Nepaul had unparalleled opportunities of collecting information about the natural history of the mountains, asserts that the yak inhabits all the loftiest plateaux of High Asia, between the Altai and the Himalaya, the Beelut Jag, and the Poling Mountains.
The form of the yak is horse-like in the contour of the withers and back, which, combined with the short and well-compacted loins, adapt him in a singular manner for the saddle. The setting on of his tail is peculiarly equine, and when in moderate action he carries it with the gay and jaunty air of an Arab courser. Great depth of chest, short muscular legs, well-knit thighs, large hocks, and sturdy carcass, indicate a beast of great power; and his performances in the collar, and under a pack-saddle, amply confirm the expectations created by this conformation.
The Hussions are known to have carried the yak to Siberia, and even to Moscow; and that fact may have influenced M. de Montigny, the French Consul at Shanghai, to make the attempt which proved so successful, and has secured this curious species to France. With an energy which does him infinite credit, he caused a herd of domesticated yaks to be brought across China from Thibet, kept them at Shanghai for four years, as a preliminary change of climate, and finding that they not only bore it perfectly well, but bred abundantly, he set sail with them on his return to France in 1853.
They were attended by some very intelligent Chinese, who had had the management of them from the beginning. The animals bore the inconveniences of ship-life extremely well. They put into the Azores after shipwreck, were detained there for some months, and finally were brought away in a ship which was specially dispatched for that service by the Minister of Marine.
The vicissitudes of temperature through which they passed had no prejudicial effect on them, and the herd numbered twelve when they landed in France in April, 1854. They were of two varieties, horned and polled, as will be seen from the table given by M. Duvernoy in his Report in the Bulletin de la Societe d’Acclimatation. These animals were distributed in three lots, one remaining at the Garden of Plants, where, with their Chinese keepers, they created immense interest, another being sent to the property of the Count de Morny, in the Allier, and the third being given to the Societe d’Acclimatation.
Subdivisions were afterwards made with the sagacious view of giving the animals every advantage of variety of soil and air: and we find uniform accounts of their doing well in the Basses Alpes, in the Doubs, the Jura, in Dauphine, under the care of the Societe d’ Acclimatation of Grenoble, under M. Cuenot de Maleeote, and M. Jobez, and latterly in Cantal under the care of M. Richard.
In all these positions they have thriven, have bred, and have developed respectable fleeces, if we may so call the mixture of hair and wool which constitutes their coat.
In August, 1855, M. Jobez made a shearing, with the following results:—
Bull hair, 686 grms wool, 2 kilogrms.
Cow „ 625 ,, … „ 625 grammes.
Yaks-. 563 » .•.» 625 »
The coat of the young animals immediately after birth, is fine and curly, and closely resembles that of the famous lambs of Astracan.
The woolly product of the yak is excessively fine, and furnishes part of the material for the renowned shawls of Cashmir; and the long, silky hairs are employed by the Thibetans in the manufacture of a thick water-proof cloth, which is applied, among other purposes, to their tent covering. The experiments which have been made in France by M. Labrosse, Sace, and other commercial houses, corroborate the reports of its excellence which have reached us from Asia.
The diameter of the long hair is too considerable to admit of its being employed in fine fabrics, but there is no doubt that when a sufficient quantity can be obtained, it will be largely used in furniture-stuffs, and carpets.
The milk of the yak cows has been submitted to analysis by M. Doyer. The quantity given to him was 85 centilitres drawn on the morning of April 22, 1854, and 47 centilitres on the evening of the same day.
The morning milk was white, and had a density of 1-0371; The evening milk was pale-yellow, and had density of 1 0320.
~!,K gave 3-10 p—’ : gave 3-60 density of 1 0320. The morning milk gave 3’10 per cent, of butter; The evening milk gave 3’60 ,, ,,
The morning milk gave 3 50
The evening milk gave 3 ’80
Of other matter there were about 2’60 of albumen, which appears to be a very large and characteristic proportion. The composition closely approaches that of the milk of our domestic cattle, and still more closely that of the goat.
The domestic yak varies in colour, black and white being the most common. There are also grey, pure black, and pure white. The latter are the most valued, because the clip fetches a higher price in consequence of its suiting the dyer, especially in China, where it easily receives a brilliant scarlet or blue colour, and is converted to all manner of ornamental purposes.
It does not appear that any of the yaks bred in, or imported into France have reached the hands of the butcher, and consequently a yak Chateaubriand has still to receive the verdict of a jury of gourmets. But where to find them? Alas for the grande cuisine of France! The grandes maisons are reduced to two; and so the grande cuisine will soon be but a tradition and a name. Not that good cooking does not still exist in France, and ever must while civilisation and intelligence have their home in Paris; but the grande cuisine, the splendid golden age of cooking, when the chef in a grande maison had his army of aides, and the materiel for a single dinner looked like the preparation for a siege — when whole beeves and many hams were concentrated into sauces for a single course — when coveys of birds were converted into a spoonful of quintessence — when a poultry yard was decimated to furnish the noix for a vol-au-vent — when Francatelli’s modest proposition to begin for a little dinner with 120 lbs. of beef and veal, would have been despised as a mesquinerie of the vilest niggardliness — that golden age is gone.
Six or seven of the ancient professors still linger in well-earned ease, but they cook not; and in the best restaurant of Paris we have the last living disciple of the famous school which was established to feed the princely table of Tallyrand; and these are all who are left of that classic era. They probably would think that a Norman ox, or a Short-horn, or a Devon, or a Belgian, would give a better fillet than a yak; and being satisfied with the existing state of beef, would advise letting well alone.
But travellers tell us that the yak fed fat on short aromatic mountain pastures affords a marvellous meat; and arguing from the analogy of mountain mutton, we are inclined to believe them. At all events, like the Welsh sheep, the yak lives and thrives at altitudes and on pastures which will support nothing else but goats; and if the yak will live, and breed, and nourish out of the Himalaya, its acclimatisation in Europe will be a real blessing to all the mountain districts, and probably even to the moorlands, where larger breeds do nothing.
In fact, the yak may become the poor man’s best friend, and the efforts which have been made in France ought to stimulate us, who possess far better means of obtaining them, to import a sufficient number to try a similar and simultaneous experiment in Wales, Cumberland, and Scotland.
Lord Breadalbane has had a herd of American Bisons for years at Taymouth, and we believe has succeeded in crossing these wild children of the prairie with Ayrshire and other domestic races. In his kingly domain there is ample space and verge enough for this other bovine species from the heart of Asia, and the same good management would have the same good results.
It is not likely that the clay land of the Regent’s Park would suit them for any lengthened period; but when the Zoological Society make their next importation of Indian pheasants, they ought to take measures for combining an arrangement for the importation of four or five pairs of yaks. Well exhibited in a large paddock, the yaks would make a far more attractive object than they have ever been in Paris, where, in the small inclosure they inhabit, it is impossible for them to display either the pace or action in which they luxuriate with M. de Morny in Auvergne, at Cantal, and at Barcelonette.
W. W. M.