A team of U.S. and Chinese conservationists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Montana counted 990 yaks in a rugged area called Hoh Xil, a national nature reserve nearly in the mid-eastern Tibetan-Himalayan highlands, a WCS release said Wednesday.
Wild yaks are the third-largest mammal in Asia, second only to elephants and rhinos, and 50 years ago the Tibetan plateau was dotted with wild yak much in the way that bison once stretched across vast North American prairies.
And like bison, wild yaks were slaughtered almost to the point of extinction, researchers said.
"For millennia, yaks have sustained human life in this part of Asia; it would be a cruel irony if their reward is extinction in the wild," Joe Walston, WCS executive director of Asia programs, said.
Conservationists say they believe the wild yak may be making a comeback following conservation efforts by Chinese nature officials and provincial governments.
"Thankfully, we have a chance now to secure their future and give back a little of what they have provided us," Walston said.