Petting Zoo Horror Stories: Camels and Yaks? OH MY!

Wil called it right: It was not one of my better ideas– getting a yak.

Riding a Yak, Yundrok Yumtso Lake, Tibet

Riding a Yak, Yundrok Yumtso Lake, Tibet

Yaks are basically short llama-coated cows with long pointed horns and have a long tradition of being a service animal (packing and riding) in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet. I wanted to have a yak team who could legally defoliate the rainvforest of my new property in NorthWet Washington.

Domestic Yak, Tallinn Zoo -- about the size of our baby Yak--

Domestic Yak, Tallinn Zoo — about the size of our baby Yak–

I  found a breeder who had a young yak and set off for Points South to pick up said Yak. We arrived at the farm, where the owner had already caught the yak and tied her up to a post near where we could load her up. She was a little upset and expressed this by whipping her baby horns toward me. But she was kind to her owner and I thought that we would be able to work through this once we got home.


Yak train, Khumbe Valley, Nepal

Yak train, Khumbe Valley, Nepal

Yaks are herd animals, so to give my new yak a buddy I had arranged to pick up a 2 year old Yak from a petting zoo. I thought that since the yak had been there, he would be a tame yak. Alas. This was not really the case. And it did explain why the owners of said yak were moving him down the road.

Wil, who had disapproved of loading up the first yak freaked out at the idea of adding a second yak. While I visited with the yak in the barn, he assumed a position that looked like one of those sticky-footed Garfield stuffed toys that people used to stick on their side windows of their cars back in the 80’s. “Chief! Chief!” he called “Chief– Let me out of the truck! If something goes wrong I need to be there! CHIEF! OPEN THE DOOR!”

I decided to take the yak– until he got in the loading corral at which point he bucked and kicked out and flung his horns. Wil was beside himself– not just because of the yak’s attack behavior, but because in the pen beside the irate yak was a 18 hand camel. A WHAT?! CHIEF!!! Get away from THAT THING!

I told the man I could not take his yak. We closed up the trailer and I got in the truck.

Wil fell over — I mean literally keeled over like a cardboard cut-out of a Bouvier. He did not move.

For 20 minutes we drove. Still no motion. I pulled into a gas station to check Wil’s pulse. He looked pleadingly into my eyes: “Chief,” he whispered, “Chief… please don’t get a yak. And please, please, please, please Chief… Don’t get one of those 18 hand monsters.”

We went for a walk to “reset” his emotions.

When we got home I put Wil in the house and then had a friend help me unload the young yak. Her behavior was just about as scary as the 2 year old’s had been, and in the end– the very next morning– I took her back to her former owner. Yaks, it seems, are fine little work partners IF they’ve been brought up from birth- with bottle feeding and a lot of handling and training from birth. Feeding a yak a ration of grain each day will not tame a yak.

Wil needed some debriefing that would let him know that Chief had not lost all sense and sensibility. So, we had a discussion about camels. I searched YouTube and found this video about camels:

“Wil,” I said, “watch this video. See the camel? It’s like the one we saw today.”

Wil glanced at the computer screen. He saw the camel and his eyes bulged. Then he recoiled, took a deep breath and started to lunge for the screen.

“No, Wil,” I said, “Camels are good. They’re like horses. People ride them. And they can pack stuff. Camels are like horses.”

Wil looked at me and then at the camel on the screen.

“See the lady?” I said, pointing to Alex standing in front of her camel. “This is her pet camel. Camels like people. They are like horses.”

Wil got up to inspect at close range:

Wil Studies Alex’s Camel Video

And in the end, he remained only about 89% convinced that camels are good people.

Wil Eyeballs the Camel

Wil Eyeballs the Camel

The question is: Are Camels Dangerous?

The question is: Are Camels Dangerous?