The Ural population of the Critically Endangered saiga, a curious-looking Asian antelope, has been decimated by an unknown assailant. 12,000 saigas, mostly females and their calves, were found dead in western Kazakhstan reports the Saiga Conservation Alliance.
Researchers are currently investigating the cause of the deaths. However, they have linked the mass mortality to a naturally-occurring bacterium called pasteurellosis, which if triggered by infection, poison, stress, or malnutrition can lead to rapid death.
Once a million strong, the saiga suffered a precipitous collapse beginning in the 1990s: losing 95 percent of its population in 15 years. Most of the animals were killed by poachers seeking meat and profits from traditional Chinese medicine markets—which uses the saiga’s horns for medicine—after the Soviet Union collapsed and Central Asia’s rural economy with it.
The saiga is currently found in five populations, but the Kazakhstan is the only population lacking an internationally-supported conservation program. The Saiga Conservation Alliance is working with local authorities and the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan to determine what caused the pasteurellosis.
The saiga is a survivor of the Ice Age. It roamed the Central Asian plains alongside mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses.
The saiga antelope.
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