14th September 2010–Representatives from Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and UN bodies meeting in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS) have agreed an international conservation pact for the migratory Saiga Antelope Saiga tatarica.
The meeting was also attended by representatives from intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local communities from the region.
The Saiga lives in the semi-arid deserts of Central Asia in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Russian Federation and parts of Turkmenistan Uzbekistan.
The horns of males are in high demand for traditional Asian medicine, especially in China and parts of South-East Asia where they are used to treat fever and the species was once hunted to near-extinction.
Saigas numbered around one million animals in the early 1990s, but declined to between 60,000 and 70,000 in 2006, largely due to a sharp rise in poaching following the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Since then, Saiga numbers have stabilized, in response to conservation efforts.
However, earlier this year the Saiga was dealt a devastating blow when almost 12,000 animals in Kazakhstan died, apparently caused by pasteurellosis.
Pasteurellosis is caused by a bacterium that lives in healthy animals, but can cause acute illness and rapid death if the immune system is weakened by malnutrition or other reasons. Females and young calves were particularly affected.
Experts at the meeting were presented with figures released in a report commissioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and compiled by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, which raised the alarm over the levels of illicit trade in Saiga horns even before this year’s mass deaths.
Saiga Antelope Trade: Global trends with a focus on South-East Asia (PDF, 700 KB) brings together information on the Saiga horn trade gleaned from interviews with experts and government officials, together with market surveys.
In 2006, TRAFFIC surveyed 162 traditional medicine shops in Singapore and Malaysia, and found Saiga horn available in all except two. More than 4000 horns were observed, with most dealers unaware of the critical conservation status facing the Saiga, most believing them to be captive-bred.
The new conservation measures agreed in Ulaanbaatar are expected to harmonize monitoring and surveys to track all Saiga populations on a regular basis. Aerial and ground surveys will fcus on calving, rutting and two migration areas.
“The key to success for the conservation of these unique looking antelopes of the Eurasian steppes has been the engagement of local people,” said CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.
“This week’s meeting paves the way for implementing the international action plan for the conservation of this remarkable animal across its entire range.”
Governments are seeking to address the fundamental motivation for poaching Saiga, namely poverty and unemployment. Involving local communities will be critical to the conservation measures implemented under the CMS Saiga agreement. Incentives to combat poaching are being developed through alternative livelihoods in deprived steppe communities.