Scientists in tizz over deaths of rare antelope

2015-05-30 10:56
(World Wildlife Fund)

(World Wildlife Fund)

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Astana - The sudden deaths of tens of thousands of endangered antelopes in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan over the past two weeks have left scientists scrambling for answers and conservationists worried about the animal's future.

Over 120 000 rare saiga antelopes - more than a third of the total global population - have been wiped out in a devastating blow that the United Nations Environment Programme has called "catastrophic".

Recent rains

UN experts have said the mass deaths are down to "a combination of biological and environmental factors."

Scientists have struggled to put their finger on the exact nature of the disease that has felled entire herds, but say findings point towards an infectious disease caused by various bacteria.

Any infections have likely been exacerbated by recent rains that have made the antelopes - 90% of which live on the steppes of Central Asian Kazakhstan - less able to cope with diseases.

Steffen Zuther of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative said: "Unseasonal wetness may have been something that lowered their immunity to infection but until we do more analysis we will not know anything for sure."

Conservation success

The sudden spate of deaths comes as a nasty shock as up until recently the saiga antelopes, which live for between six and 10 years and are known for their protruding noses, had been hailed as something of a conservation success.

Until mid-May, when the country's ministry of agriculture began reporting the deaths,  saiga numbers in Kazakhstan had increased from an estimated 20 000 in 2003 to the more than 250 000.

There were over a million saiga antelopes, mostly concentrated in the steppe land of Kazakhstan, neighbouring Russia and Mongolia in 1993.

Read more on:    kazakhstan  |  conservation  |  animals
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