Steffen Zuther

Since the 10th of May, a mass die-off of Saiga antelopes (Saiga tatarica tatarica) has been observed in the Betpak-Dala population in Central Kazakhstan. The first animals have been detected in Amangeldy district of Kostanay region, but soon further affected groups have been found not far from the first location, but also in other regions (Aktiubinsk and Akmola). To date, more than 120,000 animals have died..

On 11th of May although a few hundred animals had died, the mass die-off was confirmed. The number of dead animals increased significantly during the following days, with the peak die-off happening on 15th and 16th of May. Already on 18th the complete saiga aggregation of more than 60000 animals was dead.

A further die-off location in Kostanay region resulted in about 48000 dead saiga. In Aktiubinsk region, almost 4000 and in Akmola region 8500 animals have been found dead, In both regions, the die-off started later than in Kostanay region.

All figures are provided by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Shortly after the first dead animals had been observed, the local administration together with national governmental agencies organised a collection and burying of saiga carcasses. In parallel the investigations about the cause for the die-off by veterinary services were carried out.

Female Saiga antelopes gather every year by mid of May in large herds to give birth to their calves. Among the dead animals are females and some males, which have been together with the calving females. But also calves die, Such die-offs have been observed regularly in recent years, however, on much smaller scale.

In 2010, about 12000 animals of the Ural population died in Western-Kazakhstan region. As likely cause for their death has been a too lush, moist pasture, which caused digestive problems (tympania) related with the development of toxins, which finally led to their death. A similar, but smaller die-off has been observed at the same place in 2011. In 2012, about 1000 animals of the Betpak-Dala population, further 900 in autumn 2013.

Officially, pasteurellosis has been published as the reason for all die-off cases. The affected saiga show a clear weakness, even depression, and are not able to walk normally, partly even loose the coordination of their legs. They have diarrhoea and fluids coming from their mouth. At some point, they are not any more able to stand up, have difficulties to breath, and finally die. All these stages last only for a few hours. Laboratory analysis of samples collected from dead animals is ongoing to clarify the cause of outbreake.

 

Steffen Zuther

Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan