Saiga Antelope Gain Zero-Export Annotation at CITES
Included in Appendix II of the CITES Convention, the saiga antelope has been on the Critically Endangered species list since 2002. The CITES Convention regulates international trade in the endangered species of wild fauna and flora. Any commercial use of the species listed on Appendix II is strictly forbidden, including the Amur leopard, Siberian tiger, and polar bear. Trade in the species listed on Appendix II is subject to strict regulation.
Male saiga antelopes are the desired trophy for poachers for the sake of their horns, which are highly valued in traditional Eastern medicine. With no therapeutic effect on human health confirmed by modern medicine, the demand for the saiga horns continues to be fueled by the tradition. The decline of the species has been also caused by epidemics and natural disasters.
According to the latest census carried out with the support of WWF-Russia, the saiga antelope population on the special protected areas of the Astrakhan Region and the Republic of Kalmykia amounted to no more than 5,000 specimens, of which 573 (11%) males and 2,049 (41%) calves born in 2019.
The Conference of the Parties to CITES in Geneva has adopted the decision to set a zero export quota for international trade in the wild-caught saiga antelopes. Since these species are hardly ever bred in captivity, the decision will help effectively end any trade in the saiga horns.
"Saiga antelope populations have decreased so dramatically from disease and extreme weather in recent years that any international commercial trade puts recovery of the species at risk. The zero-export quota annotation is a helpful addition, but stronger action on trade may be needed if populations decline further," comments Hamera Aisha, Manager for Wildlife at WWF-Pakistan.
"This decision won't have much impact on the preservation of the saiga antelope in the northwest Precaspian region of Russia as its exploitation is banned due to the critically low population levels. Although the saiga antelope still nominally remains a hunting species in Russia, the respective hunting quota is zero, and it is now recommended to include the species on the Red List of the Russian Federation," says Valeriy Shmunk, Head of Caucasus Ecoregional Office at WWF-Russia. "Poaching and degradation of its natural habitat remain the major threats to the survival of the saiga antelope population."
WWF-Russia continues its efforts to preserve these species whose numbers in the northwest Precaspian region has fallen by more than 100 times over the last 50 years.
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In the middle of the 20th century, the saiga antelope population in the northwest Precaspian region of Russia totaled about 800,000. Due to resumed hunting and poaching, the population had fallen to 200,000 by 1980, with subsequent poaching reducing the number of the saiga antelopes to 4,000 animals in 2015. This is the most dramatic decline in the world's mammal populations in our times!