No respite for Critically Endangered Saiga Antelope

15 April 2004 | News story

Gland, Switzerland, 15 April 2004 (IUCN) - Despite the conservation efforts of many people, the saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica tatarica) still faces imminent extinction.

The plight of this nomadic herding antelope featured prominently in the launch of the 2002 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in which it was listed as Critically Endangered, the highest category of threat. Although extensive media coverage of the saiga's situation prompted a certain level of action, this has not been enough to stem its rapid decline.

Inhabiting the open dry steppe grasslands and semi-arid deserts of Central Asia and the Russian Federation, the status of the saiga is an indicator for the state of these fragile ecosystems. Saiga numbers have plummeted 95% from about 1 million in 1990 to less than 50,000 today. The main cause of this catastrophic decline is poaching, both for horn and meat.

Poaching is fuelled by widespread poverty resulting from major changes in the rural economies of the saiga's main range states, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Kalmykia of the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Unless current conservation measures are dramatically strengthened, poaching will continue and rapidly lead to extinction or near-extinction of the main remaining populations, especially that of Betpak-Dala in Kazakhstan.

This was one of the conclusions of a recent workshop held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, which gathered the world's leading saiga experts including members of SSC's Antelope Specialist Group and others concerned with securing a future for the species such as SSC's European and Central Asia Sustainable Use Specialist Groups.

Held under the auspices of a project supported by the UK Darwin Initiative, the meeting was attended by officials, scientists and experts from Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan, the UK, Germany and Norway, along with representatives from the United Nations Environment Programme, the UN Development Programme and Fauna & Flora International.

The following recommendations were made by participants:

"We recognise that the livelihoods of rural people in the range states of the saiga are under great pressure and that this is the main incentive for the continuation of poaching. We therefore recommend urgent initiatives to improve the incomes of rural people in the saiga ranges and to support alternative livelihood activities."

"We applaud the very substantial increases in human and financial resources for anti-poaching enforcement activities and public awareness made by the Republic of Kalmykia and Kazakhstan governments under their 'Restoration of the Saiga' strategies. We call for further increases in such resources and for international support for these measures."

"We welcome the existing collaboration between the range and other states at scientific level and are grateful for donor support for current conservation-related research. We recommend enhanced co-operation between the range states in conservation and awareness raising efforts, above all in seeking funding from international institutions and other donors. In particular we call for the signing or ratification of international and trans-boundary agreements such as the Memorandum of Understanding on Saiga Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use drawn up by the Convention on Migratory Species."

"We draw attention to the effect of poaching for horns for the Chinese medicinal trade on the population of male saiga, with its huge negative potential for breeding success. We therefore urge CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to work with the Chinese authorities to ensure that the illegal international trade is totally eliminated."

These recommendations will feed into the IUCN World Conservation Congress to be held in Bangkok Thailand 17-25 November this year. One of the event's key elements will be the World Conservation Forum which will convene over 3,000 of the world's leading specialists and practitioners. The Forum will present a more comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date assessment of the state of biodiversity on our planet than ever before and demonstrate how cutting-edge knowledge can be applied to address the world's most pressing conservation and sustainable development challenges."

For more information contact:

Anna Knee or Andrew McMullin, IUCN SSC Communications Officesr, Tel: +41 22 999 0153; Fax: +41 22 999 0015; Email: alk@iucn.org or mcmullina@iu