Mysterious Mass Deaths of Endangered Antelopes Reported

Some 440 endangered saiga antelopes have been found dead in Kazakhstan in May this year; in Spring 2010 over 12,000 saigas died under similar, mysterious circumstances. A bacterial infection is thought to be the immediate cause of death, though underlying factors are not understood. Both incidents primarily affected females and their calves.

The saiga almost went extinct in the 20th century but recovered briefly. The World Wildlife Fund estimates there were over a million in the wild in the early 1990s, but they now number around 50,000 and are on the IUCN‘s critically endangered species list.

Victims of Poaching
The drastic decline in the saiga population is attributed to loss of habitat and poaching, particularly in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union. The creature’s horn is used in Chinese medicine, which has led to a thriving illegal trade. Wild saiga are extinct in China, though a center in northwest China is having some success with breeding the antelopes in captivity. Recently, severe winters followed by summer droughts have further challenged the animals.

Adaptable Snouts
The saiga antelope once roamed from western Europe across Asia as far as Alaska.  There are five populations left in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia. The unusual-looking antelopes have long, flexible noses that act as a filter to the dusty summer breezes, while also warming the frigid air they breathe in winter. 

Conservation Efforts Continue
While it is to be hoped that scientists find the cause of these mass deaths, the larger issue of curbing demand for saiga horn will take more than laboratory tests. Protection efforts are underway, such as inclusion of the saiga in a special memo of understanding under the international Convention of Migratory Species framework. To further raise awareness and incentivize preservation of the species, later this year a travel company, working with the Saiga Conservation Alliance, will offer the first eco-tour to southern Russia featuring saiga antelope viewing.

Photo: Saiga Antelope by 3dnatureguy; Creative Commons license via Wikimedia

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Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle4 years ago

With that many deaths, two years running, I would think it would be easy for scientists to autopsy and find the cause and cure, trapping them with knock-out shots, and then vaccinating them. Unusual-looking animal -- had never seen them before

Janine H.
Janine H.4 years ago

This is a very sad story. Other animals has to go only because "we" humans do not want to share the world with other life forms, these life forms "we" would not eat (vegetarian food is not a bad idea, or eating with conscience as the so called primitive cultures did and still do, if they still exist. No meat/fish every day). "We" destroy averything around us and "we" forget, that everything is important to survive, too.

As little child i thought that rain is when God and the angels cry - because "we" humans have forgotten that we need this "intelligence", someone who could help... if "we" hadn't turned away for many centuries ago...

"Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."
(Native American proverb)

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun4 years ago

Great article. Thank you for this.

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B.4 years ago

Bad news. I hope they can prevent more from dying.

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

I think it's due to the poaching. Let tourism of the species flourish. Obviously they are big on making money. Make the money worth it for good reasons, then the country will come down on those who hurt the species.

clara H.
Clara Hamill4 years ago

I didn't even know they existed. This should be brought up more so people would know and save them.

Alessandra C.

with all my respect for China and Chinese, they are threatening too many species for their traditional medicine! From bears to saiga, to little turtles.

Ann F.
Ann F.4 years ago

agree with Rani K

Rani K.
Rani K.4 years ago

More images of Saiga Antelopes could be seen here:-
Saiga antelope
Common name: Saiga; Saiga Antelope Scientific name: Saiga tatarica. Distribution: China (ex), Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Poland (ex), Russian Federation, ... -Cached - __________________________________________________

Rani K.
Rani K.4 years ago

Most probably the fallout from the Chernobyl disaster. I hope it is the right word. All the grass and plants maybe still contaminated. It will take another 50 years to get rid of the side effects and after effects of that. They say the effects of DDT which was banned such a long time ago is still affecting our health., .Not content with all this , we are adding more to the problem everyday. Lack of education plus greed. Why bother when it always happens to someone else?