The grassland of Central Asia and Kazakhstan is home to a bovine animal named Saiga. Bright signs appeared this year for the animal, which has been designated a near-extinct species, as the population has dropped sharply.
Since 2007, scientists have been investigating the number of calves Saiga on the Uschurt plateau in Kazakhstan every spring. The results were not good, for example, 58 in 2018 and only four in 2019.
However, in a May 2020 survey, 530 Saiga calves were found. It’s a welcome sign that the baby boom may have come.
Until the 1980s, millions of animals with lovely big noses lived on the Ustut plateau. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, demand for the horn of Saiga increased in the Asian traditional drug market, and poaching surged. Saiga has dropped sharply across central Asian habitats.
In 2015, a large outbreak of dangerous bacteria killed about 200,000 Saiga’s lives. More than 70% of the remaining populations soon disappeared.
But now, not only calves but also grown-up groups have not been seen in the past decade, says Albert Salemgaleyev, an expert on Saiga at the Kazakhstan Biodiversity Conservation Association (ACBK), a non-profit organization. According to a 2019 survey, the population of Saiga in Kazakhstan was 334,400, more than double the number two years ago.
“We’re all very excited about this,” said Saken Dirdakmet, a spokesman for the Forestry and Wildlife Committee of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Agriculture. “After that mass death, the number of saiga populations is steadily increasing every year due to security and protection efforts by national forest guards.”
In 2014, the Kazakh government set up a fence along the border with Uzbekistan to prevent smuggling and drug trafficking.
“It was a fence that didn’t seem to be useful at all. We just put barbed wire in a remote area,” said E. J. Milner-Galand, a conservation scientist at Oxford University and secretary-general of the Saiga Conservation Union. “But it was very effective to prevent Saiga from moving.”
Saiga is a mobile animal that overwinters in Uzbekistan to avoid severe cold and returns to Kazakhstan to the north for breeding from late April. However, because of the fence made at the border, this movement was cut off in the middle.