We Say Goodbye To Heater, 19-year-old Domestic Yak

Heater, our 19-year-old male domestic yak at Potter Park Zoo, passed away last week due to an aneurysm in his abdominal artery. Although “Heater” was old for a Yak, he was very healthy. Unfortunately there was no way of knowing that he had a weakening of his arterial wall.

“It’s always hard saying goodbye to an animal who has become such an integral part of our daily lives,” said Sherrie Graham, Executive Director at Potter Park Zoo. “Heater was a large animal with a personality to match and he will be missed.”

Heater was born June 1, 1995. He had been part of the Barnyard exhibit since arriving at the zoo on June 23, 1998. “His passing has left a huge void for all who cared for him.” said Debbie Paperd, Veterinary Technician at Potter Park Zoo. “Nothing will be able to replace his magnitude. I was thankful he went quickly without pain and that I was there to say goodbye.”

Heater was a gentle giant. Yaks are not known to have nice demeanors, which made him even more special to the staff given his approachable nature. He knew how to get what he wanted, and usually involved his all-time favorite treat—Nature Valley granola bars. Paperd said Heater loved winters and would get excited when it snowed. He loved the enrichment coordinated by docents. He would throw enrichment items into the air with his horns and run around his exhibit, something you would not expect from a 19-year-old domestic yak.

Equipped with a heavy build and sturdy frame, the domestic yak has humped shoulders, short legs and rounded hooves. Both male and female yaks have horns. The horns of the male sweep out from the sides of the head and then curve forward with an upward tilt; the horns of a female are smaller and have a more upright shape. The domestic yak is an herbivore, feeding on lichens, grasses and tubers.