Unrelenting snowfall trap yaks, scores found starved to death in North Sikkim

Unrelenting snowfall trap yaks
Sun, May 12, 2019

Around 250-300 domestic yaks have been found dead due to starvation after being trapped under heavy snowfall since December 2018 in the cold desert region of North Sikkim. The death toll is feared to climb as many regions above Muguthang, where yaks are sent to graze in groups, are still inaccessible at the moment.
The upper reaches of North Sikkim is witnessing unprecedented snowfall this winter since December and continuing even now. Many areas are receiving snowfall up to 10 ft. Movement, whether man or yaks, is restricted under such circumstances in these isolated areas, close to Indo-China border.
Mostly the yaks, their herders and defence personnel including the ITBP roam the cold desert region of North Sikkim. The yaks were found dead at Muguthang above Lachen.
DC (north) Raj Yadav informed media that the yaks were stranded in those areas since last December due to heavy snowfall.
It was only three days ago when the roads leading to these spots were cleared for movement. A team of Animal Husbandry officials led by the Chungthang SDM with support of the ITBP personnel reached the spot for survey and found the casualties.
Some yaks were found to have survived and are being provided with medication and food by the Animal Husbandry team. These animals will be brought down to safer location soon. We are also making arrangements for disposal of the dead yaks, informed the DC.
“Excessive snowfall is the reason for such mass deaths of the yaks as snowfall in the cold desert area has carried on since January 24 till end of April, which is almost 7-9 times more than the previous year. There is still 10 feet high snow in these places. In such a scenario, the yaks tend to stay in just one place instead of grazing and they tend to do so in groups of almost 20-30 in order to keep themselves warm”, informed a North District official.
Fifteen families of Muguthang and ten families of Yumthang have been affected with the loss of their yaks, informed Yadav. He said the yak owners will be given compensation by the State government as per existing government norms.
However, the actual death toll is yet to be ascertained.
Yadav shared that a district administration team in coordination with the ITBP has started ascertaining the actual death toll and is preparing a report. The report would be submitted to the district collector by May 13 and subsequently, the compensation will be disbursed to the affected families as per norms.
An official shared that the yaks could have survived if there was not such excessive snowfall for prolonged period. The yaks simply could not find grass to graze which was buried under thick snow.
The district administration had been attempting to reach out to these stranded yaks since last December but could not make any headway as weather went from bad to worse.
“We could reach only some higher reaches of Chopta Valley but anything beyond it, seemed impossible to be accessed. The final attempt at surveying was carried out by our team on May 7 and returned on May 10 afternoon, after which the carcasses and the death toll could be assessed", stated an official when contacted.
Another concern is that the feral dogs would finish off the yaks scattered dead or lying unattended in these heavily snowed areas. The number of feral dogs are said to have increased over the years in the upper reaches, especially in areas close to the camps of the security forces.

Area: 7096 Sq Km
Altitude: 5,840 ft
Population: 6.10 Lakhs
Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 ft. to over 28,509 ft above sea level
Summer: Max- 21°C ; Min – 13°C
Winter: Max -13°C ; Min – 0.48°C
Rainfall: 325 cm per annum
Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi