Saiga Antelope: What Killed 90,000 Endangered Animals In Kazakhstan?

Kazakh authorities have reported that roughly 90,000 saiga antelope, a full third of the country’s indigenous population of the endangered animals, have mysteriously died, and the cause remains unknown.

The antelopes’ mass death was recorded last week, according to the Independent, and Kazakhstan’s agriculture ministry admitted on Friday that as many as 85,000 of the saiga may have been killed (the number has since been revised). Though the cause of the animals’ deaths remains under investigation, officials suggested that the antelope may have fallen victim to a pasteurellosis epidemic, the result of a bacterial infection. Samples taken from the dead saiga, as well as the surrounding environment, have been sent to a lab in Astana, though results have not yet been returned.

Authorities in the Qostanai, Aqtobe, and Aqmola regions of Kazakhstan have declared a state of emergency as they struggle to deal with the unprecedented number of dead antelope. Officials are attempting to manage the disposal of the animals, which are known both for their distinctive, bulging eyes, as well as their tubular snout, as the Inquisitr previously reported. As local residents search the steppes for more carcasses, they note that the antelope show no signs of physical trauma.

Shortly after the massive number of antelope were found dead, activists asserted that the incident was connected to the crash of a Proton-M rocket which failed on May 16 after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. As Radio Free Europe points out, the launch site is located less than 300 kilometers distant from the Qostanai and Aqtobe provinces, and just 600 kilometers from Aqmola Province, regions where the majority of the antelope have been found.

Kazakhstan’s Space Agency deputy chief Meirbek Moldabekov claimed that officials “do not see a direct link” between the rocket crash and the staggering number of dead saiga antelope. Moscow has agreed to fund a joint study of the effects of the rocket crash, however, after several of the Proton-M launch vehicles have exploded over the region in recent years. The rockets carry a highly toxic fuel, which activists have alleged is also linked to the death of some 1,000 saiga antelope which were discovered in the Qostanai region in 2012.

[Photo by Reuters via Radio Free Europe]