Saiga and her fawn. Credit: Rich Reading

Credit: Rich Reading

Saiga antelope are one of the most ancient mammals, having shared the Earth with saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths. At that time saiga inhabited a vast territory ranging from the British Isles to Alaska. Immense herds of saiga, numbering in the tens of thousands, once roamed the steppe landscape. This evolutionarily unique animal, the only species in the genus Saiga, has cultural and historical significance for the people of Central Asia as a symbol of the traditional nomadic lifestyle.

Saiga have survived for millenia in a land of harsh and extreme weather conditions. But organized gangs of poachers, equipped with automatic weapons and all-terrain vehicles, have called the saiga's continued survival into question. Once abundant in the steppe grasslands and semi-arid desert habitat of southern Russia and Central Asia, were declared critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species in 2002. Their numbers in the wild have dropped from over 1,000,000 in the early 1990s to fewer than 50,000 today. The species has been decimated as a result of poaching for export of horns used in traditional Asian medicine, and for meat.

Conserving the Saiga Antelope

In 2011 Wildlife Without Borders -Russia and East Asia awarded an $80,000 grant to the Saiga Conservation Alliance. This funding will support on-the-ground conservation action in Russia and Mongolia, enforcement efforts in China, and a dialogue between authorities in Mongolia and China to address illegal trade.