For mother yaks, 16,000 feet is nothing. They forage at heights well above those of males and childless females, ascending sheer mountain faces with ease to protect calves from predators and locate high-protein food (in humid upper meadows).
Princess Lea described Chewbacca as a walking carpet, but yaks fit that title better than any other animal. They live in the frigid heights of the Himalayas and sport a thick “skirt” of fur to protect against the cold. While studying these unique beasts, the Wildlife Conservation society found that mothers leave groups of males in valleys while they go forage on the mountain slopes. As Martha Hamilton writes, “Female yaks don’t worry about the glass ceiling.”
In fact, Yaks are a great example of female exploits dwarfing male accomplishments. Too often, people point to the natural world to find examples of males being “better” than females, scrambling to justify misogynistic beliefs. “It’s natural for women to be less talented then men, to stay at home and take care of the children,” they claim, “that’s how it works in nature!” In fact, for many species of birds, females have multiple mates, and it’s the women who defend their territories while men sit on the nest! The same was true for many dinosaurs. The famous dinosaur “Oviraptor,” or “egg-stealer,” earned its name because it was found fossilized with a nest of eggs. For many years, paleontologists assumed that, because it was male, it had been in the midst of raiding the nest to eat the eggs at the time of its death. It turns out that the poor mislabeled fellow was almost certainly a father guarding its eggs!
Nature does not accord with our human stereotypes; mother yaks went above and beyond male companions (literally), while many species of mother birds leave the nest care to the males. Further, it is wrong to claim evolutionary justifications for behavior; just because many primates have groups with a single male and a large harem of females does not mean that it is “proper” or justified for humans to do so. Primates are also prejudiced, tear each other to shreds in between-clan wars, and eat raw meat and grubs. No one would argue that humans should be prejudiced, act violent, and subsist on raw meat, even if our evolutionary ancestors do so. Perhaps instead, our ability to overcome evolutionary predispositions is what makes us human.
Maybe the lesson from female yaks to females of other species is to keep on aiming high.