Saiga Antelopes have been dying in herds of thousands, since the beginning of May. Estimated total of deaths is around 120.000 wich is more than 33 percent of the entire Saiga population worldwide. The causes are investigated by Kazakhstan’s government officials and the U.N.
No one has yet to find a clear and proven explanation for this horrific chain of deaths. Many possible culprits have been named and investigations will continue. Saiga antelope’s population, was a concern even before these incidents, with government measures enforced against poaching and hunting throughout Kazakhstan.
One culprit could be Global Warming, as this species of antelopes is known to have a fragile immune system, vulnerable to virus, bacteria and attributed to dampness. Any change in the environment of these shy creatures can prove fatal.
Living in herds females gather in very large numbers during birthing season. This could explain the rapid transfer of the disease through such large numbers animals.
In 1990 Saiga population count was around 1 million, but due to reckless hunting and poaching, their numbers dropped to about 300.000 before the catastrophe in May. Government officials passed more severe laws concerning hunting without a license, but the incentive for poachers is still there.
Antelope horns are many times sold to China, were they are used as an ingredient in traditional medicine. In June 2014 Chinese border guards uncovered a stash of a 2351 antelope horns belonging to the Saiga species. The stash was worth about 11 Million dollars, and the value of a single horn was approximated at about 4000 dollars.
Periods of massive deaths among Saigas are not uncommon, but such high numbers do stand out from the normal pattern. If the small population remaining, goes through an event of such magnitude again the population might never recover and, the species could go extinct.
The Saiga species, has been around since the Ice Age and were at one point living at the same time as Saber-tooth Tigers and Woolly Mammoths.
They have a status as critically endangered and the UN’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals will closely observe the developments in their situation. The UN’s CMS has already issued the first reports on the situation.
Image Source: kazpravda.kz