The Saiga Antelope is on the critically endangered list. The fall in saiga antelope populations has been dramatic. In the early 1990s, the numbers were over a million but are now estimated to be around 50,000. It faces an uncertain future due to hunting and loss of habitat. Combine this with the short lifespan of a saiga, which is between six to ten years.
The saiga is a distant relative of the gazelle but also resembles a small sheep. Its most distinctive feature is its over-sized nose, which is flexible and inflatable, so it helps it breathe clean air during dusty summers and warm air during cold winters. The eyes are large with a dark brown iris; they have rounded ears and a short tail, and very slender legs. The color of the coat is a tan similar to the color of cinnamon during the warmer months and turns to a thick white coat during the winter months.
The mating season of the saiga is in November and December. The species is polygynous, with males herding harems of up to numerous females. In April and May, the females usually give birth to one or two offspring.
Predators are a major challenge for calves. To counter this, nature causes calves to be born large, well- developed and able to outrun predators in a few short days after birth.
Other causes of calves’ birth deaths are unknown. In one case, in central Kazakhstan, female saigas came together on the open plains and, over a period of less than two weeks, hundreds of thousands of calves and mothers died from causes still unknown to researchers. This tragic event was the subject of an episode on the BBC nature series Planet Earth.
Only the males have horns, and these horns are valued in Chinese traditional medicine as the saiga is hunted for both the horns and the meat. This has also contributed to the decline of the population because it has led to a very unbalanced sex ratio. Saigas form very large herds that graze in semideserts, steppes, grasslands and possibly open woodlands, eating several species of plants. They can cover long distances and swim across rivers, but they avoid steep or rugged areas.
The saiga has also had to face increased competition for grazing grounds from other species as their natural habitat is claimed for agricultural use.
Severe winters followed by summer droughts in recent years have also made it difficult for the population to recover. Saigas survive today in Kalmykia, three areas of Kazakhstan, and in two isolated areas of Mongolia. Another small population in the Pre-Caspian region of Russia remains under extreme threat.
Majestic Mountain Landscapes Of The Kazakhstan Reserve
Adult Female Saiga Antelopes Near The Watering Place
At Federal Nature Reserve Mekletinskii, Kalmykia, Russia