Like something out of the Twilight Zone, in just a few weeks, more than half of all saiga antelopes left on this planet died from a bacterial disease. This was in the spring of 2015 and the timing couldn’t have been worse; spring is calving season, so the female saigas were at their most vulnerable from giving birth and their immune systems were compromised. Thousands of saigas—primarily females and infants—died in an unprecedented event that still has scientists perplexed.
But that was 2015, and a lot can happen in a year. Saigas are tough; they are fast breeders, and if given the chance, they can repopulate relatively quickly. Thankfully, this is exactly what our partners at Saiga Conservation Alliance (SCA) are reporting. Local and international conservationists, including SCA and their partners, responded to the initial crisis quickly, helping to figure out the cause of the bacterial epidemic and ardently protecting the remaining saiga from other threats, such as poaching.
Every year, scientists from SCA’s partner, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan, go to the vast, treeless steppe where herds of saigas have gathered and conduct a population count. This year, the count showed promising improvement; the population affected by the disease seems to be on the road to recovery. Normal calving this spring has delivered a slew of saiga newborns which SCA expects to produce up to a 30 percent increase in the affected population, if all continues to go well. Saiga populations are still critically low, but the disease that so devastated them last year has thankfully not returned. This year’s birth of hundreds of baby saigas has brought a new sense of hope amongst everyone at SCA who are optimistic that the resilient saiga antelopes will continue to recover.
We extend a special thanks to our donors who responded with fast financial support at the time the disease broke out.