120,000 Antelope Died In 2015, And No One Knows Why

The death of 120,000 antelope in Kazakhstan in 2015 has left geoecologists completely bemused, especially since 60,000 of the species died over a 4-day spell.

According to NBC News, the death of these saiga antelope, who are critically endangered, didn’t just occur in one specific area, as veterinarians and conservationists were informed that herds across Kazakhstan had died.

This all took place over the month of May, and before the beginning of June, the death of these antelope had finished. As a result, the number of saiga has now halved, from 257,000 to under 128,500.

Steffen Zuther, a geoecologist who visited the center of Kazakhstan alongside a number of colleagues to monitor the deaths of the saiga antelope, has learned further details regarding the demise of the animal.

Zuther stated that bacteria played a part in their deaths. However, he insisted that he doesn’t know how they got into the animal. But, Zuther was quick to underline just how shocking this mass deaths was. He explained as follows, via Yahoo.

“The extent of this die-off, and the speed it had, by spreading throughout the whole calving herd and killing all the animals, this has not been observed for any other species. It’s really unheard of.”

After conducting extensive research on the herds and animals, even watching some of them as they perished, Zuther currently believes that the animals died as a result of toxins from Pasteurella and maybe Clostrdia bacteria, which passed through the milk of the mothers. This research revealed that female saiga antelopes were the ones who died quickest and in an abundance.

This, then, resulted in the death of the young, too, because they were still too young to eat the vegetation in the area. Because of the sequence of events, Zuther has since deciphered that the killing of the animals was due to the bacteria being in the mothers’ milk.

Zuther and his colleagues also examined and took samples from the environment where the saiga antelopes had lived in the months and weeks up to these deaths. This included the rocks and soil that they walked across, as well as the water they drank and the vegetation that they consumed.

Zuther added that a long and cold winter, which was also followed by a moist spring, might have caused the bacteria to spread through standing water and wet vegetation. However, he also added that this would be a surprising way for the disease to have spread. Zuther said that he and his team will continue their research into these deaths.

[Image via Victor Tyakht / Shutterstock]