Mysterious Die-Off of Saigas in Central Asia

By Shannon Bohman

Mission: Saiga Mother saiga and calf in the steppe in Cherniye Zemly (Black Earth) Nature Reserve, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2009 Saiga tatarica

Mission: Saiga
Mother saiga and calf in the steppe in Cherniye Zemly (Black Earth) Nature Reserve, Kalmykia, Russia, May 2009
Saiga tatarica

Image acquired from commons.wikipedia.org

Figure 1 This picture shows a mother and child saiga in their native Central Asian Steppes.

 

This past May, the corpses of hundreds of saiga antelopes were found scattered across the Central Asian Steppes. This endangered species had been under close watch due to significant overhunting.

Conservationists succeeded in replenishing the population, but over half of the species died because of enormous infections of the Pasteurella multocida and Clostridium perfringens bacteria. These bacteria exist harmlessly on most animals, but flare up into deadly infections under high temperatures. Due to climate change, May temperatures have been increasing each year, leading to unusually stormy weather in late spring. The saigas were particularly vulnerable when this weather hit, as they had just stripped their winter coats, and the mothers had just given birth.

Malignant bacteria and more extreme weather have prompted scientists and governments alike to come together to prevent any further population depletion. Solutions include tougher restrictions on poaching, alternative migration routes, and captive breeding populations.

 

 

 

  1. Zimmer, More than half of entire species of saigas gone in mysterious die-off. The New York Times (2015).

 

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