Saiga Antelope Population Collapse: 120,000 Endangered Antelopes Die Mysteriously In Kazakhstan

Saiga Antelope

Scientists are trying to determine what killed nearly half the population of the critically endangered saiga antelope. Since mid-May, over 120,000 of the endangered antelopes have died from unknown causes. Experts say that the mass die-off occurred in four large female birthing herds, which killed the females and new baby calves.

According to the LA Times, the mass die-offs began in mid-May, killing over 120,000 saiga antelope. The cause of the mass death is currently unknown, but scientists say that there are two distinctive bacteria that have been identified in the deceased herds. However, the bacteria on their own should not have caused death unless the antelopes’ immune systems were already lowered from some other cause.

Experts on the saiga antelope note that the mass casualties within saiga antelope communities tend to happen during the “birth period.” The “birth period” is the time when saiga females come together in large herds to give birth at the same time. The births usually take place in a period less than a week long. At this time, the mass deaths happened resulting in the deaths of all the females and calves within four separate herds.

Though the death is a huge hit to the already critically endangered species, scientists are hopeful that the antelope can make a comeback. Executive Secretary Bradnee Chambers of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, a United Nations-backed effort, says that there is hope for the species as they often give birth to twins.

“Saiga antelopes often have twins and populations are able to rebound quickly. Our hope is that if we can control what is driving these mass mortality events as well as tackle the No. 1 threat to saigas — wildlife crime and poaching — populations will be able to recover.”

Time reports that when the mysterious ailment strikes a herd, it leaves behind absolutely no survivors. Every single antelope in the herd dies. This isn’t the first time that a mass death event has occurred within the saiga antelope populations. The worst event prior to this one resulted in the death of nearly 100,000 of the antelopes. Though the mysterious deaths are startling, scientists urge Kazakhstan officials to continue anti-poaching measures for the species. Poachers nearly killed off the species as their horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine. At their lowest point, prior to anti-poaching measures, just 90,000 saiga antelopes remained on earth. Prior to the recent mass death event, approximately 250,000 of the saiga antelopes were living. After the deaths, rough 130,000 will remain.

What do you think about the mysterious deaths of the saiga antelope? What more can be done to protect the dying species?

[Image Credit: Wiki Commons]