Conservation boost for `ugly duckling` antelope


Under the leadership of the Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS), a broad alliance of government representatives from Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, UN bodies, inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and local communities have come together to discuss and agree on a new conservation strategy for the Saiga antelope.

During an international conference held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the Central Asian States and the Russian Federation agreed this week to include the Mongolian Saiga antelope in an international Saiga agreement concluded under the auspices of CMS. With Mongolia signing the agreement, all Saiga antelopes will benefit from this international cooperation.

Saiga antelopes roam the vast planes of Central Asia and the Russian Federation. They can undertake migratory journeys between summer and winter ranges of over 1,000 kilometers. Although described as the ugly duckling of the world's antelopes, the Saiga is a vital part of the natural and cultural heritage of the plains of Eurasia.

Saiga antelopes still numbered around one million in the early 1990s, but declined to around 60-70,000 in 2006. Since then, and in response to conservation efforts, their populations have stabilised at this low level. Today, the majority of populations are starting to increase, but one transboundary population continues to decline. Current populations are reported to number about 85,000 animals in Kazakhstan (almost 12,000 died in the disease outbreak in May 2010), 8,000 in Mongolia, at least 10,000 animals in the Russian Federation and several thousand in Uzbekistan in winter. No Saiga mass migration has been observed in Turkmenistan in the last 10 years, where the species used to migrate to in harsh winters.

Despite legal protection, the Saiga are hunted for their meat and horns, which are used in oriental traditional medicine. Other threats include disease, pasture degradation through overgrazing by livestock and other disturbances from oil and gas extraction work and possibly climate change.

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