Saiga Antelope: Features, Conservation Challenges & More

A large portion of the Eurasian steppe was once home to the severely endangered Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). They also happened in the British Isles and Beringian North America throughout the Pleistocene. It has disappeared from southwest Mongolia, China, and the Ukraine.

Saiga Antelope Appearance

The saiga antelope is distinguished by its enlarged, downward-facing set of closely spaced nostrils. These animals have different coats depending on the season. When summer arrives, it looks red to yellow and then fades toward the flanks. During the winter, the coat turns a light gray-brown hue, with hints of brown on the neck and belly. In most cases, the ventral portions are white. The large, somewhat translucent horns are unique to males alone. The horns exhibit 12 to 20 distinct rings and have a hue similar to wax.

Distribution

Saiga antelope are now restricted to three locations in Kazakhstan (the Ustiurt, Betpak-Dala, and Ural populations) and one area in Russia (the Republic of Kalmykia and Astrakhan Oblast). In the winter, some Ustiurt people migrate south to Uzbekistan and sometimes to Turkmenistan. These uncommon antelopes inhabit grasslands, steppes, semi-deserts, and possibly open forests, where they may seek cover from severe weather.

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Habits and Lifestyle

Saiga antelope are gregarious animals that live in enormous groups. Throughout the day, they are active and spend most of their time grazing on steppes and grasslands where they consume a variety of plants, some of which are toxic to other animals. The ability to travel great distances over the steppes to avoid natural disasters is a characteristic of saigas. These antelopes avoid rough or steep terrain, but they can swim over rivers and travel great distances.

Diet and Nutrition

Graminivores, or herbivores, are saiga antelopes. They consume a variety of grasses, lichens from the steppe, and other plants.

Mating Habits

When stags (males) compete with one another for the approval of females, the mating season begins in November. A herd of five to fifty females is led by the winner. Females gather in large groups to give birth after a five-month gestation period. A third of deliveries are single calves, and the other two-thirds are twins. Around four months of age is when the young are typically weaned. At 7-8 months of age, females reach reproductive maturity, while males begin to breed at 2 years of age.

Population

Population threats: After the USSR collapsed, the demand for Saiga antelope horns in Chinese medicine and unrestrained hunting caused a sharp decline in the species’ population. Since the beginning of time, when hunting was a necessary means of obtaining food, saigas have been the target of hunters.

These animals’ skin, flesh, and horns are valuable commodities that Kazakhstan exports. One of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine is saiga horn, also known as Cornu Antelopis, which is added to elixirs, ointments, and beverages as an extract or powder.

They are worth just as much as rhinoceros horn, the trade in which was outlawed in 1993. Even though it is prohibited to kill and trade, horn items are nevertheless widely available for purchase in a wide range of establishments. The loss of habitat is a major concern for Saiga antelopes.

Since the 20th century, these species’ habitat regions have been reduced by human settlements and agricultural advancements. The passage of Saiga was restricted by occupants to water resources and the winter and summer habitats.

Due to their migratory lifestyle, saigas are likewise weather-dependent and greatly impacted by climate swings. Severe winters with gusty winds or a lot of snow prevent grass-feeding insects from surviving on the snow-covered grass. The population typically declines sharply following particularly cold months. Furthermore, the steppe region’s high temperatures cause springtime floods that can drown saiga calves.

Population number: The Saiga antelope’s total population was estimated by the IUCN Red List to be between 164,600 and 165,600 individuals or 123,450 and 124,200 mature individuals, as of January 2018. Of these, 154,600 individuals were found in Kazakhstan, 5,000–6,000 individuals in Russia, and approximately 5,000 individuals in Mongolia. According to the IUCN Red List, this species is currently listed as Critically Endangered (CR), and its population is currently declining.

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