Endangered antelope numbers bounce back from near extinction

Becca Smith

Friday 5 August 2022

Saiga antelope numbers have made an astonishing comeback after previously being threatened with extinction thanks to conservation efforts by the RSPB, alongside the Government of Kazakhstan and partners.

Thanks to conservation efforts, the saiga antelope has made an astonishing recovery from the brink of extinction, with 1.32 million now found roaming the steppe grasslands of Kazakhstan once again.  

Historically having migrated across the ancient Eurasian steppe grasslands in their millions, decades of uncontrolled poaching, habitat loss and disease caused saiga antelope numbers to dwindle to less than 40,000 individuals by 2005. 

In response to the species’ plight, the RSPB co-founded the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative alongside the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), the Kazakh Government, and other international partners to restore the saiga population. As a result, the saiga has made an astonishing comeback – from less than 40,000 individuals in 2005 to more than 1.32 million recorded in 2022. 

Successfully using satellite tracking to understand saiga movements and increasing anti-poaching activities, the project is also working to establish protected areas covering over 4 million hectares to benefit the saiga antelope and other wildlife that lives alongside the species.  

Just one of the areas that the project has focused its conservation efforts is the Ural region of western Kazakhstan where 800,000 saiga antelope congregate every spring to give birth. Bokey Orda-Ashiozek, a site found within this region, includes one of the most significant calving sites for the species.  

In response to the importance of the area for the saiga antelope the Government of Kazakhstan has announced recently that Bokey Orda-Ashiozek has been declared as a 657,450 hectare Protected Area to help safeguard the future of the species and wider steppe nature. 

Talking of the announcement, Vera Voronova, Executive Director from ACBK said: “We are delighted that the new Protected Area in western Kazakhstan that will be a welcome addition to our conservation efforts in continuing to protect the saiga antelope. As an ancient wanderer of our lands, we look forward to seeing the sustainable future of the species alongside other important wildlife in the region such as ground squirrels, larks and iconic steppe eagles.” 

Mark Day, Head of Kazakh Steppe Conservation at the RSPB, adds: “This official declaration paves the way for an exciting year ahead. Using our conservation science to help aid species across the globe has only been made possible thanks to long-term partners like ACBK who, in collaboration with the Kazakh Government’s Forestry & Wildlife Committee, are at the forefront of saiga antelope study and conservation in Kazakhstan.  

We look forward to continuing our work alongside ACBK and establishing a biodiversity monitoring programme for the new Protected Area, bringing vital new equipment to the site, training a new team of rangers, and developing the site management plan to help safeguard the area and saiga antelope for generations to come.” 

 

 

Notes:

The RSPB play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations helping to deliver work such as the Kazakh Steppe conservation. BirdLife International is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with a special anniversary Global Congress in September - to find out more visit: www.birdlife.org/birdlife100/ 

The Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative is an international partnership designing and driving large-scale and long-term efforts to re-establish fully functional ecosystems of the steppe, semi-desert, and desert in the historical range of the saiga antelope spanning over 750,000 km², encompassing a unique assemblage of flora and fauna. Partners are the:

  • Association for Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan
  • Ministry of Ecology, Geology & Natural Resources (Kazakhstan)
  • RSPB
  • Fauna & Flora International
  • Frankfurt Zoological Society

Image: Albert Salemgarayev

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