Surprising findings from research on saiga antelope mass die-off


In continued analyses of samples from the catastrophic mass die-off of saiga antelopes from May 2015, several laboratories have identified the bacterium Pasteurella multocida as the causative agent of haemorrhagic septicaemia, which led to the death of the animals. Recently, histopathology has confirmed this diagnosis.

In May 2015, mostly female saiga antelopes of the Betpak-Dala population, then the largest population of this species, gathered for calving in a number of separate aggregations over a vast landscape. Soon afterwards, each group started to show signs of disease at slightly different times over the month of May. “When symptoms appeared, death was only a few hours away. The herds showed up to 100% mortality, leaving only a few groups of animals alive, consisting mostly of males, which separate from the big calving aggregations”, describes Steffen Zuther from ACBK, who was in the field at the time of the die-off.

The saiga mass die-off in Kazakhstan has highlighted the importance of protecting the remaining critically endangered animals from other ongoing and severe threats. After having lost almost 90% of the animals, the situation of the Betpak-Dala saiga population is critical. E.J. Milner-Gulland from the Saiga Conservation Alliance points out: “Continuing severe poaching is causing further losses, especially of males, which are shot for their horns, a highly priced agent in traditional Chinese medicine, which is used in several Asian countries.” Just recently the Committee of Forestry and Wildlife of the government of Kazakhstan has reported an increased number of poaching cases in 2015 (107 cases compared to 79 in 2014).

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photo: Andrey Gilev and Karina Karenina


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