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14 august 2019
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) summed up results of Saiga antelope census in the Astrakhan region and the Republic of Kalmykia. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) were used in the process. According to the results of the census, there are an estimated 5,000 Saiga in the region. This is less than a previous estimate of 7,000 animals that was based on ground surveys.

Experts deciphered and analyzed aerial photos for a month. Census was carried out June 19-26 above three protected areas: «Chernye Zemli» Biosphere Reserve, «Mekletinsky» Sanctuary and «Stepnoi» Sanctuary. Photos analysis showed that Saiga population in those areas counts 5150 animals, including 573 (11%) males and 2049 (41%) Saiga calves (about 4 weeks old).

«Previously, censuses had done with line transect surveys from cars or low-flying aircraft. These methods were prone to substantial random errors as well exerted great stress to the animals. We’re glad that new Russian UAV models give us an accurate data of Saiga population and location without negative impact on the animals», - Dmitry Dobrynin, Head of the Saiga aerial census operations said.

(с) Eugene Polonskiy / WWF-Russia

Results of the research will help for scientists and conservation managers to study dynamics and sex-age structure of the northwest Pre-Caspian Saiga population and prioritize conservation activities in the area.

 «The next stage is an aerial census using UAV with infrared cameras in the winter when breeding season will occur. Besides that, we will try to use satellite images for the census in coming years», - says Valery Shmunk, Director of the "Russian Caucasus" Ecoregional Office, WWF-Russia.

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In the middle of the last century, the Saiga population of the northwest Pre-Caspian estimated 800 thousand individuals. By 1980, the population had decreased to 200,000 due to hunting and poaching, and subsequent heavy poaching reduced the number of the Saiga to 4,000 animals in 2015.

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