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Around half of the Kazakhstan's Saiga antelopes have died

29 may 2015
About 120,000 individual antelope have died since the middle of May. The most probable cause of their death is an infection – pasteurellosis.

The first 117 dead antelopes were found on the 10th of May in Kostanai oblast. In 11 day the number of buried animals exceeded 28 thousands. By 26th of May according the information of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan about 120,000 saiga were lost. It’s almost half of the population, which in 2014 has been estimated in 257,000.

The mortality of saiga encompass three administrative regions of Kazakhstan - Kostanay, Akmola and Aktobe. Local authorities react immediately and bury all dead animals. Veterinary and sanitary services conduct examination and sampling of pathological material for analysis. Police posts that do not allow strangers in places where death saiga are found.

The most likely cause of the Saiga death is pasteurellosis. “Pathogene of pasteurellosis is symbiotic for almost all of the animals, but the disease arises only because of some special environmental conditions. It’s something like Collibacillus in humas which is normally symbiotic, but can cause dysentery in special conditions,” - says Olga Pereladova, head of the WWF-Russia Central Asia Regional Programme.

Possible triggers of the pasteurellosis are environmental conditions: very cold winter, wet and cold spring etc. These conditions influence the Saiga’s pastures: usial earliest vegetation – ephemers don’t grow, later various forms of vegetation start to grow quickly, but with the dis-balance of microelements. When saiga starts grazing it - microelements dis-balance provoke activation of Pasteurella.

Apparently, similarly to other  cases of epidemics ofpasteurellosis that have repeatedly occurred in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, we can assume that this is an epidemic of a natural origin,  - said O. Pereladova. Nothing can be done in addition to the measures that are implemented by the  authorities of the Republic of  Kazakhstan'.

The course of the disease is usually transient: no treatment is effective even for cattle at an early diagnosis. Typically, the disease leads to death within three days.

Saiga mass mortality events have been observed regularly, but not always in such  catastrophic scale. For example, in 2010 - 12 thousands of saiga died from pasteurellosis out of 25 thousands of Ural population. Though in 1981, 1984, 1988 there were comparable massive die-offs. In general, Kazakhstan's saiga mass mortality is repeated at regular intervals. In the spring of 1981 in the former Turgai region killed 180 thousand antelopes died, in February-April 1984 in the West Kazakhstan region - 250 thousand, in May 1988 - about 500 thousand of saiga.

Saiga – is a cloven-hoofed mammal from the family of antelopes. Because of the demand for horns and meat during the period of  1992 to 2003 the number of saiga population in Kazakhstan decreased by more than 50 times, from a million to just over 20 thousand. But thanks to the efforts of the Republic of Kazakhstan and help of national and international organizations, including WWF, the number of saiga in Kazakhstan during the last twelve years has been growing steadily and in 2014 it achieved 254 thousands.

© © Wild Wonders of Europe / Igor Shpilenok / WWF