The endangered saiga antelope has had a rough few years in Kazakhstan, hunted mercilessly by poachers for its horns and wracked by a deadly sickness that has seen thousands of these endangered long-nosed antelopes perish on the steppe.
Yet amid all the doom and gloom there is a glimmer of hope: Kazakhstan’s saiga population has more than doubled over the last five years, according to figures released by the Ministry for Environmental Protection.
The country’s saiga population now stands at 137,000 against just 61,000 five years ago, the ministry said. The news comes less than two years after officials reported that efforts to conserve this creature – listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List – were bearing fruit as numbers passed the symbolic 100,000 mark in Kazakhstan.
The population has since grown by over a third, but today’s figures are still a far cry from Kazakhstan’s million-strong population of the 1970s. Since then the saiga – an unusual-looking creature with a distinctive long, humped nose that allows it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters – has been hunted mercilessly by poachers for its horn, which is prized in Chinese medicine.
With each sip, beer drinkers in Kazakhstan can now help their country’s endangered fauna. One of Kazakhstan’s major breweries is donating two tenge (about 1.3 US cents) to the protection of golden eagles with the purchase of each souvenir can of its Karagandinskoye Pivo.
Clearly, Kazakhs like their beer: Since July the campaign has raised more than 2.6 million tenge ($17,220) to support the activities of the Almaty-based Sunkar Raptor Sanctuary and the Institute of Zoology of Kazakhstan, the company says.
The distinctive, limited-edition cans are decorated with a colorful golden eagle, the endangered bird of prey that has iconic status in Kazakhstan. An eagle adorns the national flag and eagle hunting is an important Kazakh tradition. The golden eagle is also the symbol of the Karaganda-based brewery behind the promotion.
The campaign's proceeds are helping the Institute of Zoology identify existing eagle habitats and pinpoint why numbers are declining. A survey conducted in four mountainous regions in mid-2012 found over 650 golden eagle couples, and scientists estimate the total number of pairs in Kazakhstan to be around 1500.
However, golden eagles numbers in the wild have been falling in recent years as a result of illegal poaching and habitat destruction.
Over 500 rare Central Asian antelopes have been found dead from unknown causes in northern Kazakhstan.
The news will disappoint conservationists trying to boost numbers of the endangered saiga, a distinctive creature with a long, humped nose that permits it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during cold spells.
A total of 543 saiga corpses have been found in Kostanay Region in the far north of the country, Kazakhstan Today quoted the Emergencies Ministry as saying. The majority were does (508); 31 calves were also found dead. The cause of death is being investigated.
As well as roaming the steppes of Kazakhstan, the saiga also lives in remote areas of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Mongolia and Russia. It is classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.
Kazakhstan is home to the largest numbers of saigas in the world, but a population that numbered over a million in the 1970s has been decimated.
The World Wildlife Fund identifies loss of habitat and poaching as the major threats: The horn of the male saiga is particularly prized in Chinese medicine for use as a painkiller and antibiotic, creating a thriving and illegal trade.
Nevertheless, conservation efforts appear to be paying off in Kazakhstan: Last year officials estimated that the country’s saiga population had reached 100,000, up from 85,000 the year before.
Some rare positive news about the endangered antelope known as the saiga: Numbers are up in Kazakhstan and have risen over the symbolic 100,000 mark, Tengrinews reports.
According to the latest figures, Kazakhstan’s saiga population has jumped by about a quarter since last year’s estimate. Kazakhstan has the world’s largest number of the endangered antelopes, but today’s figures are a far cry from Kazakhstan’s million-strong population of the 1970s.
The saiga is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
Paradoxically, the increase in numbers could have an unexpected adverse effect by making herds of these creatures – which have a distinctive long, humped nose that allows them to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters – more visible to hunters.
Hunting the saiga is illegal in Kazakhstan, punishable by a five-year prison term, but, for risk-takers, there is money to be made.
“The saiga horn is used in traditional medicine in China, so the demand is from there,” Zhannat Tansykbayev, director of Okhotzooprom, the state company in charge of protecting Kazakhstan’s fauna, said.
A total of 442 saigas – a distinctive creature with a long, humped nose that allows it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters – have been found dead, West Kazakhstan Region Governor Baktykozha Izmukhambetov told a cabinet meeting on May 31.
He said the deaths of 360 does and 82 calves may have been caused by an outbreak of pasteurellosis, a disease that attacks the lungs and which killed nearly 12,000 saigas in an epidemic last year. Scientists are also investigating whether “some sort of poisoning from the flora, which is to say from the grass, is taking place,” the governor added.
The saiga, which roams in remote areas of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Mongolia and Russia, is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.
The World Wildlife Fund identifies loss of habitat and poaching as threats to its existence: The horn of the male saiga is prized in Chinese medicine for use as a painkiller and antibiotic, creating a thriving and illegal trade.
Lumbering camels and nimble horses are common sights on the Kazakh steppe, but if you spotted a prowling tiger, you’d probably do a double take. In a few years, though, the striped felines may not be such a surprise: Astana is joining forces with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in an ambitious bid to reintroduce tigers to the Central Asian state.
The project seeks to bring these proud beasts from the Russian Far East and settle them in southern Kazakhstan in an area deemed by experts to offer a suitable habitat.
The tigers won’t replace the Caspian tiger (panthera tigris virgata) that once made its home in Kazakhstan and all over the Caspian region. Last spotted in the wild in the 1970s, that breed was driven to extinction by poaching and habitat loss, and there are none in captivity.
But all is not lost for Kazakhstan’s tiger lovers: It’s hoped that the Amur tiger, which is genetically identical to its Caspian cousin, will eagerly take up the relocation offer and adapt smoothly to the Ili River Delta south of Lake Balkhash, where 400,000 hectares of suitable habitat have been identified.
“With a strong plan and proper protections in place, tigers can again roam the forests and landscapes of Central Asia,” WWF-Russia Director Igor Chestin said as the new program was announced on April 14.
He was among WWF officials Prime Minister Karim Masimov met with in March, and now the WWF is teaming up with Kazakhstan’s Environment Ministry to design detailed plans to bring the tiger back.
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