Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that 60 saiga antelopes were discovered shot dead in northwestern Kazakhstan, with their horns removed. The tragic event illustrates that the gentle grazers remain under attack from wildlife traffickers capitalizing on the myths of animal horn cure-alls.
The saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) has been listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN since 2003. Saiga antelopes once prospered in the semi-desert and steppe regions of southeastern Europe and central Asia. This species can be found in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but are now extinct in China, Moldova, Poland, and Ukraine.
Tragic story of the saiga antelope The saiga antelope population was over one million as recently as 1993, but is now only about one-tenth of that number.
Saiga antelope horn is used as an an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine; according to the IUCN, the saiga antelope was extinct in China by the 1960s.
Illegal hunting has put the put significant pressure on the species. The breakup of the former USSR has has led to less protection, while hunting of young males has led to a skewing of the sex ratio and adversely impacted the reproduction of the species.
Habitat destruction has also impacted the saiga antelope. The precious grazing lands and migration routes have been destroyed by agricultural abandonment, which has also allowed the encroachment of a plant which is inedible for saigas. Additionally, severe winters and steppe fires also challenge the saiga antelope.
Perhaps the most tragic blow was stuck by conservationists.
According to a 2003 article written in New Scientist by Fred Pearce, a plan to protect rhinos ended up decimating saiga populations.
In the early 1990s, groups such as WWF actively encouraged the saiga hunt, promoting its horn as an alternative to the horn of the endangered rhino.
The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union created a lucrative black market, and the parallels to current rhino horn crisis are eerie. More....