By Joanna Lillis
The Kazakh Agriculture Ministry has sounded an alarm over the fate of the saiga, a critically endangered antelope that roams the steppes of Central Asia. The animals continue to fall prey to poachers engaged in the lucrative trade in their horns, which fetch large sums over the border in China where they’re prized for use in traditional medicine, the Kazakhstan Today news agency reports.
Over the last two months forestry inspectors in western Kazakhstan have found 111 saiga carcasses left behind by poachers, and since the beginning of 2009 a total of 312 saigas have been found shot dead, the Agriculture Ministry’s Forestry and Hunting Committee says.
The deaths registered by inspectors are undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg. Kazakhstan faces a formidable challenge in its saiga conservation efforts, with hard-pressed inspectors trying to police the vast and remote territories where the antelopes roam as poachers continue to hunt them down.
Kazakhstan plans to introduce a stiff penalty of three years in prison for killing saigas, Deputy Agriculture Minister Marat Orazayev told parliament on November 23.
The World Wildlife Fund identifies loss of habitat and hunting as key threats to the existence of the saiga, a distinctive creature with a long, humped nose that allows it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breath warm air during the freezing winters.
To combat the slaughter of the antelopes for their horns, the Forestry and Hunting Committee is proposing banning adverts for the purchase of saiga horns, which are placed by traders in the media, its chairman has said. The advertising is blatant and “has to be rooted out,” the Kazinform news agency quoted Yerlan Nysanbayev as saying at a meeting on saiga conservation. More....