The first aerial survey carried out in two years, in Kazakhstan, revealed that the population of Saiga antelopes, an animal recognizable by its long rounded muzzle similar to a small proboscis, had increased from 330,000 to 842,000 individuals.
The Kazakh Ministry of Ecology, which revealed the good news, welcomed this demographic boom which it described as “an indicator of the effectiveness of measures for the conservation of populations and the fight against poaching”.
Decimated by bacteria in 2015
Kazakhstan, as large as five times the size of France and populated by 18 million inhabitants, is home to the vast majority of animals of this species with immense migrations, which can gather in winter in herds of tens of thousands of heads.
Mongolia and the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, bordering Kazakhstan, are home to small colonies.
The saiga has come a long way. In 2015, around 200,000 of these animals had been wiped out by nasal bacteria that developed due to unusually hot and humid temperatures, posing a serious threat to the survival of the species.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whose “red list” is the scientific reference for endangered species, classifies the saiga among the five critically endangered antelope species.
The main danger poaching
Main danger for the animal, the poaching which exploded after the breakup of the USSR, of which Kazakhstan was part. In Soviet times, the saiga enjoyed increased protection. Until 1950, its hunting was prohibited then very strict quotas were imposed, its population reaching two million individuals.
For a long time, the new Kazakh authorities did not have the means or the will to fight against this poaching, which fed a lucrative traffic to neighboring China where the horns of male saigas are used in traditional medicine.
However, they pledged to act, especially after the death, in 2019, of two game wardens, one of whom was beaten to death by poachers, which had moved the country.
The work to be done in this area remains colossal. In April, the Kazakh police announced that they had arrested two men responsible for poaching more than 800 saiga horns in less than a year, worth a total of several million euros.
During a trip in May to the steppes of northwestern Kazakhstan, during the calving season, experts told AFP that anti-poaching measures were successful.
Albert Salemgareev, of the Kazakh Association for the Preservation of Biodiversity, assures us that a “positive dynamic” is at work: “Not only is the number of saigas increasing but the number of males in relation to the number of females is increasing. also ”.
Thus, the male / female ratio went from one in 17 five years ago to one in eight, he said.
The loss of habitat linked to agricultural expansion, climate change, with too harsh winters and too dry summers, can also harm this fragile species, which has also been decimated on several occasions by epizootics of pasteurellosis.
In 1988, 434,000 animals had perished and in 1984, 250,000 animals had died of this disease.
In mid-May, the Ministry of Ecology announced that 350 antelopes had been killed by lightning during the calving season.
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