Saiga’s baby boom raises hope for naturalists

Saiga’s baby boom raises hope for naturalists

Good news for naturalists: the number of one of the more eccentric-looking of the world’s hoofed mammals – saigas, whose main population lives in Central Asia – is increasing.

Saigas that live in arid areas have long been listed in the Red Books of all countries in the region. The number of saigas in the territories of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia is monitored by staff of nature reserves and specially created control groups of researchers. In 2002, this species was categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “CR”, that is, “in critical condition”.

Saigas need vast enough territories for migration and herding, and it caused the decline in the population. Many territories are used for ploughing and other agricultural activities.

Now, the baby boom of saigas on the Ustyurt Kazakhstan Plateau, raises hope for scientists to keep this beautiful animal. Researchers with the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) counted some 530 newborn saiga among the Ustyurt Plateau herd.

The trend is obvious. Close to 6,000 adult saiga were counted in the population last year, an encouraging more than three-time rise from a number in 2015. But the Ustyurt head are still a shadow of what they once were; the population numbered some 265,000 as recently as the late 1980s.

As the smallest saiga population, the Ustyurt population is at heightened risk of extinction. Its extinction will affect the other remaining groups and significantly change the ecosystem of the region.

However, experts warn that saiga have something of a natural boom-and-bust existence. Saigas are vulnerable to large-scale mortality events, though. Such events may result from climate change, including fierce winters. Severe summer drought can also kill the antelope in droves, as can disease outbreaks, since they have no immune against the disease. Therefore, it is so important for nature reserves and wildlife preserve to limit their territories from grazing herds.

At the same time, scientists say that saiga hunting had declined sharply across the world.

Saiga historically roamed much of the Eurasian steppes and semi-deserts from southeastern Europe into Mongolia and China. Saiga grazed ice-age Great Britain as well as North America. The antelope’s bulbous snouts are adaptations to the harsh countryside they inhabit, helping filter out dust as well as warm the frigid air saiga inhale in winter. The saiga is born to move, tracking green up and weather.