Almaty (Kazakhstan) (AFP)
The population of the critically endangered Saiga antelope has more than doubled since 2019, Kazakhstan said on Friday, giving conservationists new hope for the steppe animal’s long-term survival.
News that the Central Asian country’s population of Saiga has grown from 334,000 to 842,000 since the last aerial survey suggests it continues to rebound after a mass death in 2015.
The Kazakh Ministry of Ecology said in a statement that the boom was “an indicator of the effectiveness of measures aimed at conserving the Saiga populations and combating poaching.”
The vast steppe of the former Soviet country is home to most of the world’s saiga, the Russian region of Kalmykia and Mongolia with a smaller number.
In 2015, around 200,000 antelopes – well over half of the total world population at the time – were wiped out by what scientists later determined to be nasal bacteria that spread under unusually hot and humid conditions.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whose “Red List” is the scientific reference for endangered wildlife, considers the Saiga to be one of the five critically endangered antelope species.
Kazakhstan did not conduct an aerial survey in 2020 due to the coronavirus.
# photo1- Poaching problem –
Poaching is a persistent threat to the Saiga, known for its distinctive bulbous nose, and is fueled by the demand for its horn in traditional Chinese medicine.
Kazakhstan’s leaders have pledged to step up their crackdown on poaching after two state forest rangers were killed by poachers in 2019.
The murders sparked a national outcry.
One of the two, Yerlan Nurgaliyev, is honored with a mural on an apartment building in the largest city of Almaty, which depicts him cradling one of the animals considered national symbols.
But recent police arrests show the extent of the threat to the species.
In April, the Interior Ministry said it arrested two men responsible for poaching more than 800 saiga horns, which the ministry said were worth millions of dollars.
The detainees had “cut the horns of the dead Saigas and stored them for sale” since the fall of last year, the statement said.
During a trip this month to the steppes of central Kazakhstan where the calving season is underway, analysts told AFP they believe the government’s willingness to enforce anti-poaching laws was bearing fruit.
Albert Salemgareev, an expert from the Kazakhstan-based Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative that works closely with the government and international partners to preserve Saiga, said the project’s visits to the region had shown “positive momentum.”
“Not only is the number of Saiga increasing, but the number of males relative to the number of females is also increasing,” said Salemgareev, whose group drove and hiked between Saiga populations this month, weighing and marking newborns.
While demand for male horn five years ago had reduced the male-to-female ratio to one in 18, recent visits to an area of Saiga in northwest Kazakhstan have suggested a ratio closer to “one to one.” seven, or one to eight, ”Salemgareev estimated.
Climate change and the expansion of human activity through agricultural and infrastructure projects are other threats to The Saiga.
Earlier this month, the Environment Ministry estimated that around 350 female Saiga antelopes were killed by lightning amid storms in the west of the country.
© 2021 AFP